“When injustice becomes law, reaction and resistance becomes your duty
…our reaction is their only hope”
Last weekend the 3rd annual Beneath the Waves Film Festival kicked off in Norfolk, Virginia and although I was sadly not able to attend, I got the low down that it was fabulous.
If you don’t know what the BTW Film Festival is, you can read more about it on their website:
Anyways, after viewing all of the finalist’s videos, which you should definitely check out as well, I was particularly taken by the winner of the best conservation message, “Time Will Tell.”
Watch and you will know why this award was more than deserved.
A beautifully passionate and moving piece, “Time Will Tell” delivers a haunting message about the status of our oceans and the severely threatened APEX predators that continue to disappear, unchecked, from them. Armed with the wonder that is social media and a curiosity to know more, I contacted the young Australian filmmaker, Madison Stewart, to get the inside scoop about the film and what inspired it’s creation. She was more than happy to chat and share her story with me and those willing to learn how to protect these awe-inspiring creatures.
Fun facts about the filmmaker
Name: Madison Stewart
- Age: 18
Country of Origin: Australia
- The Locker: How long have you been diving?
Madison: Since I was 12, so 6 years.
The Locker: Your favorite underwater species and why?
Madison: Sharks- I was born with my love of sharks, and it grew on me because I have always loved being on the side of the feared and potentially dangerous things in the ocean, dolphins may be cute, but they cant spark fear in a person, sharks are just plain cool in that way!
About the film
The Locker: How and when did you become interested in underwater videography?
Madison: Film has always been a big passion of mine, I grew up watching doco’s. It was when I left school though, that I saw sharkwater while on a dive trip, I knew about the things happening to sharks in the film, what I didn’t know was just how powerful film could be as a medium to make people learn about those things. I was wondering what I could do about the GBR (Great Barrier Reef) becoming a shark fishery at the time, too young to be noticed, too quiet to be heard, Sharkwater inspired me to choose film as the medium to fight with. Film is literally a weapon for which there is little defense, a way to light the darkness. It sometimes it seems like I am fighting inconceivable odds and at times like this I remember film, it is one thing I have not lost faith in. I know if people had seen the things I had seen they would want to fight for them as well, and I found a way to show them these things! My father and I cut a deal, I left school to home school when I was 14, and we swopped the next couple years of school fees for an underwater video camera!
“I thought the GBR would be mine forever, I was so wrong.”
The Locker: How did your film “Time Will Tell” come to be?
Madison: ‘Time Will Tell’ truly separates itself from my style of films, it’s not what I wanted to do but I needed to give people a reason to click onto my blog and send the letter I had made asking the government to stop the fishery taking sharks legally from the GBR, within each letter sent to the government, there is one more vote on the sharks side… I recall a good friend saying to me ‘this is the kind of film you should be making’, because there are people in it, my voice, and a bit of a story, I used this approach thinking it was the best way to get anyone anywhere felling for the sharks.
I made this film as soon as I retuned with some new footage from the GBR, it was the first time I had been back to the Great Barrier Reef since I was 14 and started fighting against the legal fishery, so for me returning was a rather significant emotional deal. I would sit on the deck between dives, listen to the music I wanted to use in the film, and literally think to myself ‘how much time do I have’. I have not only seen it with my own eyes, but seen the research confirming my greatest fears. I thought the GBR would be mine forever, I was so wrong, I have sharks disappear from this place. My heart beats for these waters, if I could not share that fact thorough a film I would have no other way to tell people, so I thought it was essential just before the big decision to continue the fishery was made.
The Locker: What was the most memorable part of filming?
Madison: There are so many, I have seen some amazing things under the oceans surface… yet I’d say it was my very first shark feed with the camera was my most memorable part. Of course the footage ended up being underwater blair witch project quality, but I was 14 at the time, it was my first time filming, and I HAD to get good footage or I would loose my chance to save my sharks (I was filming to send something to the government making the decision), It was a shark feed at north horn on Osprey reef, I had been so occupied with filming, that I didn’t see any sharks except through my camera monitor, and I went into decompression at 24 meters with very little air in my tank, surrounded by countless grey reef sharks. My dive computer was screaming at me, and all I could do at the time was keep filming.
Recently I have become more fluent with my camera, after allot of failures, and mistakes, I have learnt and I’m getting better, now the only mishaps I have with the equipment is when it ends up in a shark mouth, which happened at tiger beach last year, probably the most recent memorable occurrence!
The Locker: There were numerous shark species in your video, how many were you able to swim with? Did you ever once feel threatened by any of them? What would you tell people who are afraid of sharks?
Madison: I have dived with leopard sharks, grey nurse, a great white (cageless), tiger sharks, silkys, hammerheads, silver tips, reef sharks, Caribbean reef sharks, and many others… not once in this time have I felt scared, threatened or in danger.
What I would tell people who afraid of sharks is simple… not so long ago, I was very scared of humans (I still am in many ways) because from the news I could tell they were dangerous, they had proved they are unpredictable, and I didn’t spend much time with them. Sharks however, I understood and spent time with, and that’s all it takes, knowledge dispels fear, and the perception of sharks most people have is not only wrong, but in my opinion one of the most misconstrued truths in history. Sharks I have encountered are subject to extreme effort form us to get them close using things like food, and even then they are cautious. One dive with a shark, and you would probably change your mind towards them once you see them, they are not harmless, but they are certainly not worth of the rap we give them! However to fear them is human instinct, and I expect nothing more from people, I just won’t accept that fear being a factor that blinds you to their destruction or value in our oceans, you can still fear them but at the same time respect them and take a few simple steps to help them.
The Locker: Much of your video is you breath hold diving. How long can you actually stay under for?
Madison: I’m a terrible freediver at the moment ha! I have ceased practicing for some time, I used to be allot better when I was younger. When I have the camera in my hand, I can stay down for allot longer, because when there is footage to get I become a robot with the mission in mind and this helps. Any day I would choose freediving over scuba, I love it, it is in fact sometimes the only way I can get footage in places we can’t scuba or to get close to animals. It requires allot of work and I believe has aesthetic value to footage, so I plan to practice it allot more!
The Locker: How did you hear about the Beneath the Waves Film Festival and what made you decide to submit your film?
Madison: One of my best friends Sara Keltie, who I actually met through shark conservation posted it on my facebook wall and said I should enter, to which I replied, “no way, my films aren’t stories like they are looking for” but I eventually decided I would anyway, it’s the first film fest I have ever entered! As soon as I found out I was in the finals I sent Sara an apologetic message, to which she replied ‘proud of you shark face’ and the moral of the story is… give into the right kind of peer pressure ;)
The Locker: If you could give advice to other aspiring filmmakers, from your experience, what would it be?
Madison: With a video camera, you can destroy many evils, or just damage their reputation, sometimes people do need to see, to believe. If you have seen things the world should see, you now have a way. Be patient, be creative, film as much as you can so you have allot to edit with… and you have to create the film in your head first!
The Locker: If people could take one message from your film, what would you like that to be?
Madison: The severity of our oceans damage was bad enough to push me into conservation (something I never wanted or planned to do) and my lifetime is a fairly short one… I want a specific focus on the GBR, I know it says marine park, but behind the pretty label of sustainable is a devastating industry managed by the same departments that profit from it. Many governments are counting on our fear of sharks to blind us to them being taken from our oceans, we are the only ones who can police them. Also I want you to know what is possible, the power of an individual was something I never believed in until I started doing this campaign, then I realized how much I could achieve. My pure love for this particular patch of oceans in itself is a weapon for which they have no defense! I need the world to know legal fishing in the GBR of sharks is happening, and that we could stop it through public pressure on the government. While researching for the last few years I have found, the second highest catch in this fishery, is the scalloped hammerhead shark, it is endangered. The allowed quota of 600 tonnes, is not a number forged through scientific reasoning, but an assumption of what the sharks will survive. There are more than 60 different species caught in this fishery, most vital information requires to fish them (such as reproduction rate) is unknown. There have been times when the by-catch has out numbered the primary target catch. Populations of sharks are down by 97% in some areas of the Great Barrier Reef, and only 33% of the marine park is actually protected, research suggests the protected areas don’t even cover the territories of some sharks. The only reason this is happening is because people are unaware or don’t care about sharks…
The Locker: How important/useful do you think social media platforms such as YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, etc. will be as a tool for the upcoming generation to use in order to communicate such science/conservation messages?
Madison: I hated facebook my whole life, then my friend in the Bahamas made me get one when I was 16, so I set one up… I must say, it is the greatest tool. I have caught many illegal acts through people posting pictures of themselves killing sharks, and to spread the message it is great too. Its actually how I got many of my interviews and work and met amazing people who carry the message further! Another friend of mine convinced me to put films on youtube, for the first few month I was adamant about it! When I finally did, overnight one of my films had 1000 views, all this is not something I look at as an achievement for myself, but for the sharks!!! I love the hateful comments too, because my job is to change these people, and even if I don’t get to them, I know I have done my job by just grabbing their attention!
“Has our fear really reached a point where a species will die because our ability to fight for it is gone?”
About the state of the oceans
The Locker: Though this is somewhat of a loaded question, What would you say is the single greatest threat to our oceans today (or simply the shark population if you prefer)?
Madison: Scientifically speaking it would have to be ocean acidification, but the greatest threat is humans to put it simply. The one thing within our power that is the greatest threat, is the lack of awareness among people. For example people in Australia, one can watch a beautiful doco on the GBR one night, and then go buy sharks form the GBR at the local supermarket and not know, we are so disconnected form the reality of the oceans, even though they mean so much to life on land! Shark populations suffer from the greatest force to any animal on this planet… fear. At the hands of the human race mere fear can be translated to genocide and unjustified destruction, we are a food chain gone mad. It’s proven effective in their destruction, and all that happens to them no matter if it is driven by culture or profit, is merely a product of fear, stopping us from preventing it.
The Locker: In your video you state, “When injustice becomes law, reaction and resistance becomes your duty.” Where would you send someone who is looking to stand up for sharks?
Madison: It doesn’t matter who you are, where you are, if your scared of sharks, there is a way for you to fight back, you can send the letter I created after allot of research which can be found here to the listed addresses of government,… then get everyone you know to send it. www.elements5.blogspot.com
You can do so much by going to your local fish and chips shop and making sure you not eating shark (often labeled as flake) and by not buying shark, or eating shark fin soup or in a place that serves it. When you see ‘JAWS’ inspired stories on the news or in papers, write to them and tell them they are incorrectly portraying an important apex predator as a monster! People say they have so much respect for what I do, but I do everything for you… at this point as one person I have done all I can for the oceans, it is up to you to make the right choices, change the way you think, stand up for things… even a small voice for sharks will be a large one because it has never happened before for sharks! Always look behind what is made clear, dig deep enough to find the truth!
The Locker: Many countries and states have rather recently banned shark finning, do you see hope for the future in Australia, or maybe even parts of Australia, doing the same?
Madison: We need to change the laws in Australia, shark finning may be banned, but when the sharks from the GBR are brought to land, then there fins are cut off and sent to Asia, their body is then sold in Aus. Our population still loves to fear sharks, because we are such a coastline community. The european honey bee kills about 10 people a year in Aus, on average 1 person each year dies of a shark related injury- but everyday 4 people die and 90 are injured on our roads. People are in the water with sharks every day, they see us, smell us, hear us, they don’t seek us for their food, that’s a fact. There are dangerous situations at night, in murky water, but sharks themselves are just in their home, doing their thing, this needs to be the new Australian understanding of the seas, we must embrace our choice to be in the oceans as one with certain risks.
At the moment Aus is moving backwards and I am not always proud to be Australian, what we are currently doing to grey nurse
sharks by opening their critical habitat zones to fishing, attempting to cull great whites and taking sharks from our world heritage area… the only hope is within the people. I live in Byron Bay, this is an old whaling town, there is remnants of a pier where they used to bring in the dead whales… now we are one of the biggest whale watching places in Aus, there is a Sea Shepherd sticker on every second car (this may be my fault), and the minds have changed drastically. I see the same happening for sharks… if I change the mind of one person, I have been successful, one things for sure, I will be spending the rest of my life trying to do so.
The Locker: What do you plan to do next? Should we expect more great films from Madison Stewart? Maybe off to university to study the creatures you love so much?
Madison: There is nothing Uni could teach me about the oceans I couldn’t teach myself, and the fishery has been extended for the next 3 years… I see this as my deadline. the research is already out there, I want to take it and put it in a context that can create action from the people. Film is my passion, and yes, you should expect allot from me, I want my sharks back, and I will take down every threat acting to destroy my potential future with them piece by piece. What I really want is for the Australian people to be the ones to take back our surrounding seas for the sharks. Not only for sharks, but ourselves, humans are a terrifying destructive species, we must recognize if we cannot strive for survival over killing for fear and protect sharks, then there is little hope for us. Legal fishing of sharks in the Great Barrier Reef Marine park and world heritage area is happening right now… your reaction is their only hope.
Madison Stewart is a truly inspiring person, whom of which I enjoyed getting to know in our brief encounters. I am thankful to her for her eagerness to answer my questions and I love that she is so young and full of potential to do great things. My hope and I am sure hers as well, is that you will learn from her story and her film will inspire you to no longer sit on the sidelines. To take action. For as she says, “…reaction is their only hope.”
To learn more about what you can do to help Madison in her endeavors and
to help stop legal shark finning in the Great Barrier Reef, please visit her blog at
or to view more of the work she has done and will do, check out her Youtube page at
Another great film short that Madison has put together about the dangers that sharks are facing can be viewed below, shedding light on who should actually be afraid of who…
“Man Eating Shark”
Well, here’s your chance to make that dream a reality.
Calling all scientists, filmmakers, want-to-be filmmakers, youtube stars, rappers, students, teachers and people with sweet dance moves (like jagger)…who all essentially share a passion for the ocean and what goes on “beneath the waves.”
We want you.
Submissions are now being accepted for the 2012 Beneath the Waves Film Festival.
The festival is unique in it’s fusion of film and social media to communicate science, aquatic issues or overall love for the ocean, something which we are all about here at the Locker. In conjunction with the 41st annual Benthic Ecology Meeting at Old Dominion University, this year will have more to offer than ever before, with filmmaking workshops and an evening of the conference dedicated to an IMAX screening of the selected films.
So how do you get in on all the fun?
First. Check out the website for the deets.
Second. Note that the deadline for submissions is coming up.
January 20th, 2012.
And of course there are some rules. (See #1)
Third. Get out there (bring your friends) and get your camera rolling.
Stories are everywhere, get creative, and have fun!