Summer of the Sharks

"Very Good"

Summer of the Sharks Review


Rows of razor sharp teeth. Black, lifeless eyes -- killer's eyes. The shark's predator personality has allowed the species to survive for more than 420 million years. And the blood-curdling yell of "SHARK!" sends most people running to the safety of dry land. But Eli Martinez, ex-bull rider, Shark Diver Magazine editor, and star of Summer of the Sharks, hightails it toward the water. If you haven't guessed by the title of the film or his magazine, Martinez is a man who likes to spend his time underwater with 200-plus-pound killing machines. In this documentary, Martinez and his magazine crew set off to document their own Endless Summer of shark diving -- a trip that would take them from North Carolina and Louisiana to St. Maarten and Holbox Island in Mexico.

Summer of the Sharks is a Red Bull-fueled shark diving documentary with the divers ditching the cage for a full-contact, face-to-face with the beasts. Their passion for both sharks and diving splashes onto the screen from frame one. For Martinez and his crew, shark diving isn't about laughing in the face of danger. Sure, it's a rush, but it's about the respect and experience of the animal -- the feelings that bring a faraway smile to Martinez's face as he shakes his head in awe after a good day of shark diving. Between the travelling, shark diving montages, and celebratory beer swigging, there is a very real moment when Martinez is overwhelmed by frenzied sharks that remind him of his mortality. The excitement of Martinez's hobby is broken by its stark, dangerous reality -- he can only think of what would have happened to his family if he had stayed in the water. For the viewers, it's an example that shark divers are not one-dimensional thrill seekers, just as sharks aren't mindless killing machines.

A dark shape circles under the movie's road trip structure. Its prey -- sharks. Summer of the Sharks isn't a shark conservation film, but when Martinez and company encounter shark fishermen in Mexico, they take the chance to document the horrors of the practice (see also the related film Sharkwater). Instead of shoving forgettable shark fishing stats in your face, the movie sends director Rusty Armstrong on a shark fishing ride-along. Armstrong doesn't speak Spanish and the fishermen don't speak English, but it doesn't matter when the camera speaks volumes. The fishermen hook the sharks, yanking them from the water, and beat them over the head until they're dead. It's an image that gets its power from the filmmaker's respect for the animal and love for their sport, not from a heavy-handed conservation message. We are free to make up our own minds, but we all tend to come to the same conclusion.

Though we share their feelings against shark fishing and get to tag along on their adventure, the filmmakers don't give many details on sharks they're diving with, the places where they are diving, or the people who they meet on their way. Without any info about the type of sharks they are diving with and their diving techniques, we can't fully understand the animals they love to be around. Questions swirl around the divers suspended in the watery ether -- why won't the sharks go after them? What types of sharks live in that area ? How does that diver get the sharks to swim under his legs? These inquiries are a product of interest. We see these amazing images of people with sharks, but don't learn anything from them. Fortunately, Summer of the Sharks provides enough diversity in its images, without dwelling too long in any one spot. For some of us, Summer of the Sharks is still the closest we'll ever get to one of the briny deep's fiercest underwater predators.



Facts and Figures

Run time: 82 mins

In Theaters: Thursday 25th June 2009

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 3.5 / 5

Cast & Crew

Director: Rusty Armstrong

Producer: Eli Martinez

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