The 'C' word in Natural History TV & Save our Seas 'Rethink the Shark'

'Rethink the Shark' highlights the fact that faulty toasters kill more people each year than sharks do.

By Cheryl-Samantha Owen for The Telegraph

"It's very heartening this year to see so many films with a strong environmental focus – it seems at last the environment is going mainstream, and is on everyone's agenda," said Joanna Lumley, the host of this year's Oscars of the wildlife film industry.

The Gala Panda Awards in Bristol took place last month amidst a week of seminars, debates and discussion at Wildscreen, the leading wildlife film festival. It attracts delegates from around the globe who work in film, television and the press, as well as those actively involved in working to conserve the environment. Over 420 films were entered.

A definite buzz filled the air at this year's Festival and the big 'C' word was on the lips of most producers, commissioners, cameramen and NGOs. A swear word on the tongue of some and the planet's only hope in the voice of others, the big 'C' in the wildlife film industry stands for Conservation.

Every film-maker wants the audience to care passionately about their story to the extent that they feel moved to take action and make a difference, but from Sir David Attenborough and James Lovelock to the Director of Google Earth, it seems everyone is perplexed as to why environmental films with strong conservation messages are not making it to the light of day. Sadly, those that do are destined for the ghost slots, late nights on channel Z while prime time TV is sandwiched with big teeth, blood and fear.

One character that almost always comes worse off in these adrenaline documentaries is the shark. A never-ending series of natural history films (perhaps natural history entertainment is a more apt description) portray sharks as man-eaters. By perpetuating the 'Jaws' myth these films do nothing to promote shark conservation and the cruel fact that man is killing 100 million of them each year, pushing sharks toward their final cut – extinction.

In one giant step towards promoting natural history films that tell the whole story and engage viewers with the big 'C', the Save Our Seas Foundation (SOSF) took home the most prestigious award in natural history filmmaking – the Panda Award – for its campaign film 'Rethink the Shark'.

Image: Chris Clarke, Executive Director of SOSF, accepting Wildscreen's Panda Award for our Rethink the Shark campaign

A great campaign film considers the audience, provides a key message in a compelling way, and hopefully challenges preconceptions. According to the judges SOSF's 'Rethink the Shark' did this with "a sharp eye for detail, extreme wit and good humour."

SOSF, in partnership with Saatchi and Saatchi's Cape Town division of the global advertising agency, created a film that ends the stereotypical view of 'Jaws'- with an ironic twist. Drawing from its scientists around the world SOSF's HD films are based on cutting edge research and designed to educate, delight and inspire the audience to take action and conserve our marine environment.

'A summer's day on a crowded beach: shrieks of delight and joy sound the air as children splash and play in the ocean. The happy, family scene turns sour as a woman screams and panic ensues. People swim frantically for the shore, there is a stampede on the beach and a baby, almost trampled in the chaos, cries.'

An ominous shape appears – a toaster floats towards the panicked spectators, its triangular edge bobbing above the surface, and the audience gasps as reality hits the screen: "Last year 791 people were killed by faulty toasters. Only 4 by sharks. Rethink the Shark".

The film, part of an awareness campaign driven by the SOSF, urges people to 'Rethink the Shark'. It challenges the media-driven public perception of sharks as man-eaters to looking at these key ocean predators in their real light.

SOSF is a non-profit research and education organization that is dedicated to raising awareness about the state of our oceans and highlighting the negative consequences of removing sharks and rays from the marine ecosystem.

Cape Town, where the scene was filmed, is home to the Save Our Seas Shark Centre, which promotes the protection and conservation of sharks worldwide by developing scientific research projects and global education and awareness projects that target the general public, fishers and children. So, next time you crisp your bread spare a thought for the sharks out there that are rapidly becoming toast due to over-fishing and finning.

For more information or to download 'Rethink the Shark' visit: www.saveourseas.com

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