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Q&A: doc filmmaker Rob Stewart, of Sharkwater fame, on his plan to save the world

In Revolution, the globe-trotting, shirt-doffing filmmaker behind the save-the-fish documentary Sharkwater, turns his attention to a more sizable cause: planet earth

Q&A: Rob Stewart

You made a modest little documentary called Sharkwater about the global shark-finning trade. It ended up earning $5 million and winning dozens of awards. How did that success change your life?
It was incredible. I got to travel around the world and go to a slew of massive film festivals. High-fives. Big parties. Richard Branson and Hayden Panettiere supported the cause, and Leo DiCaprio was a big fan. The film taught me how to be a director and enabled me to make more movies.

How did a kid from north Toronto become an eco–poster boy in the first place?
I was chubby and had a really bad stutter. My parents would take me on exotic vacations and I sort of found a connection with the amazing animals I’d see. Eventually, I became a wildlife photographer—and along the way lost the stutter, and the chubbiness. It was a dream job. When I learned about shark-finning practices, I knew I had to do something.

Your parents are co-CEOs of Tribute Entertainment Media Group—the company that makes those magazines you read in movie theatres. Have they continued to play a role in your career?
They were the executive producers and financiers for Sharkwater and my new film, Revolution. They put me in rooms with CEOs that a 22-year-old would otherwise never have gotten into.

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Toronto’s shark fin ban is overturned by the courts

It’s back! (Image: avlxyz)

That didn’t last long: on Friday, the Ontario Superior Court overturned the ban on the sale of shark fins, which city council passed with overwhelming support last October. Following the reasoning of a city staff report that cast doubt on Toronto’s authority to enact such a ban, Justice James Spence found that as cruel as the practice of finning may be, “the ban will not by itself have any identifiable benefit for Toronto with respect to the environmental well-being of the city.” The court challenge was brought by four members of the city’s Chinese business community, who argued that the ban unfairly targeted their ethnic group. Unsurprisingly, councillors such as Glenn De Baeremaeker and Kristyn Wong-Tam have voiced their dismay at the decision, and have said the city may appeal the ruling. We can only imagine that Sir Richard Branson is not impressed either. [Toronto Star]

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Current Obsession: Cirque du Soleil CEO Guy Laliberté’s $35-million vacation photos from space

Current Obsession: Cirque du Soleil CEO Guy Laliberté’s $35-million vacation photos from space

Photographs: aerials courtesy of the Thompson Landry Gallery; Laliberté by Getty Images

In September 2009, Guy Laliberté dropped a reported $35 million to hitch a ride on a Russian Soyuz spacecraft and spend 11 days orbiting Earth on the International Space Station. Laliberté, the co-founder of Cirque du Soleil and one of the richest men in Canada, called the zero-gravity jaunt a “poetic social mission,” though “outrageously expensive, Richard Branson–esque publicity stunt” might be a more apt description. The flamboyant former busker did lend the trip some charitable gravitas by using it to promote his One Drop foundation, which focuses on water conservation in developing countries. Like any tourist, he also took thousands of photographs—from 354 kilometres above. This month, 60 of Laliberté’s vacation shots are part of an exhibition called Gaia, on display in the Distillery District. The Earth appears through his lens as a series of bizarre and haunting abstracts. Deserts in Turkmenistan and Arizona seem like details from a paint-spackled canvas. Other landscapes conjure visions of alien matter viewed through a microscope—only NASA geeks and Hubble-heads would recognize these scenes as terrestrial. Laliberté’s favourite shot is a view of the sun as it rises over the Pacific Ocean near Chile, creating a poignant sliver of blue against the blackness of space. The collection is a reminder that this planet is even bigger and stranger than an eccentric billionaire’s ego.

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Richard Branson gives Toronto props for its shark fin ban

A note to the business owners and city councillors concerned about the legal, cultural and ethical implications of the city’s recent ban on shark fin: Virgin Group chairman Richard Branson says it’s cool. The professional rich person and global do-gooder has endorsed Toronto’s prohibition of the product, and he wants the federal government to follow suit by banning the importation of shark fin, according to Tribute.ca. Branson says he became interested in the plight of sharks after watching Sharkwater—you know, that documentary made by “David Suzuki with a six-pack,” a.k.a. activist filmmaker Rob Stewart. Perhaps next Branson could weigh in on other vexing questions plaguing our city, like how much to tip for a fancy, $14 cocktail. Read the entire story [Tribute.ca] »

(Images: Branson, D@LY3D; soup, avlxyz)

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For the second time, a Virgin airline cuts Toronto out of its list of destinations

Toronto to lose its Virginity in April (Image: BriYYZ)

Back in April, we were so hopeful about Virgin America’s new flights to San Francisco and L.A. That hope proved wasted last Friday when the airline announced that both services will end on April 6, 2011. The company chose Toronto as the airline’s first international destination last year, beginning service on June 23. Executive chief of Virgin America David Cush told the Star that Virgin intended to corner Toronto’s west coast–headed business market, citing our city as a leading centre in entertainment, technology and finance. The airline even hyped its Toronto launch by naming an Airbus A320 after rapper Drake and throwing a—we kid you not—party in the sky hosted by Virgin Group founder Richard Branson and attended by Arnold Schwarzenegger.

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Hot child in the city: Drake is on the patio at One

Michael Budman helps Drake try on a Douglas Coupland jacket (Image: Roots)

Drake is apparently over his fear of rough-and-tumble Toronto, because he’s on the patio at One, the oh-so-exclusive Yorkville restaurant at the Hazelton Hotel. The hip hopper was flown into town on Richard Branson’s private jet recently and attended Roots’ bash for Douglas Coupland’s new line this week. Maybe it’s One’s row of hedges or Mark McEwan’s posh comfort nosh that has eased his unease.

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Virgin to start flying out of Pearson, hopes it goes better than last time

We assume this is what's meant by "mood-lit cabin" (Image: LWY)

Virgin America announced yesterday via Twitter it would soon be offering daily flights from Toronto to California’s west coast. The flights on the airline (a brainchild of loopy British billionaire Richard Branson, though mostly owned by Americans) will begin June 23, departing from Pearson and making stops in San Francisco and Los Angeles. One-way fares will start at $212.

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