Envoy – Shark Cull, directed and produced by Andre Borell is a documentary that shows the real story behind the Shark Safety program in Queensland and New South Wales. Narrated by Eric Bana, the film shows the true effects of the current methods of baited drum-lines and nets, including that on other sea life.
The film features big names in ocean conservation including Marine Biologist Ocean Ramsey, and the Australian Geographic Society Young Conservationist of the Year Madison Stewart. Joining the long list of Marine Biologists are Australian surfers, Layne Beachley and Tom Carroll.
Envoy – Shark Cull is in cinemas from July 21 to July 25. I had the opportunity to chat with director Andre Borell about the upcoming release.
Can you tell us a bit about the Hype Project?
Yes, the hype project is a video production company that I started with a mate of mine, we co-own it, back in 2009. So we started off as a video production company just for like corporate videos and all sorts of things like that. We then have evolved more into a, I guess, a bit of a digital agency, with digital production as one part of what we do, and then digital marketing, photography and all sorts of other things as well. So that is what the Hype Project is and then we use that as a platform and all the resources that that business gives us to create Envoy with.
Now I’ve had the opportunity to watch your documentary Envoy – Shark Cull, which is an eye-opening and educational film about the shark safety programs in QLD and NSW – It’s called Envoy, what significance does that name hold?
That name was important to me because there was a lot of people that have been working on this issue for a long time before us. I really didn’t want to come in and put myself at the centre of a narrative and pretend that we were discovering what this program was and we were going to be the ones to solve it. I really wanted to pay credit to the people that have been working on this for a long time dedicated to the environment and standing up for sharks and I felt Envoy was a good way to sum that up. So an envoy is a diplomatic messenger or representative and I think that’s what these people are for our environment, for our oceans. I really wanted to make it about them as well as the issue, because they do incredible work and they’re all very special people and quite inspiring to be around.
Why is this project so important to you?
I’m a scuba diver. I also surf. I’ve gone to the beach my whole life, so I really love the ocean and it frustrates me and angers me when things are done to harm that environment. It is especially angering and frustrating when it’s all done for no real good reason, for a false sense of security or to make people feel more comfortable at the beach when it’s not actually keeping them any safer. If it did work and it did keep them safer, killing sharks, then, you know, there might be a philosophical argument to be had here of, you know, what’s the value of human life or a shark life and you can go down all sorts of holes with that, but the reality is these programs don’t work as the stated purpose, which is to keep people safe. Sharks bite people at “protected beaches” just as often as they bite them at other beaches. So it really, really just frankly frustrates me and angers me when a program like that is done for no real reason other than to look good politically or show that you’re doing something politically. Yeah, it’s a frustrating thing to see happen to a place you love.
It’s mentioned in the documentary that both the QLD and NSW Government declined the opportunity for an interview, do you think they are trying to hide something when it comes to the shark safety program?
I do I really do think that trying to hide something. They know it’s not effective, it’s been proven in scientific papers that it’s not effective, it’s been proven in a court of law that it’s not effective, even their own scientific working group acknowledges that it’s not effective. By declining an interview, they can simply put out a pre-written statement, you know, something that the PR department puts together and that they can put some vague, not really saying anything language out into the world and kind of leave it at that. Whereas sitting down with any journalist or anything, really but in my case, a documentary filmmaker who is going to ask you some questions for half an hour or an hour is probably an uncomfortable position to be in, especially when there’s no good answers and you can’t really defend the program with anything other than hollow rhetoric. I never really expected them to say, yes, I hoped they would because it would add to the film. But look, we know their position. They put it out in the press release every time something happens in this space, be it a tragic shark bite incident or be it a whale getting tangled in a net or something else. They’ve always got their go-to lines in their press releases. I think it’s easier for them to hide behind those press releases than sit down and answer some hard questions.
The documentary includes some big names in ocean conservation, why was it important to get their perspectives/voices out there? How do you think their viewpoint helps?
Look, at the end of the day, they’re the experts like, yes, we’re documentary filmmaker and documentary film crew and we’re assembling all this knowledge and trying to do it in a compelling, powerful way, but they’re the ones with the knowledge. They’re the ones that dedicate their lives to fighting this sort of stuff and standing up for the environment. So it was just really important, like I said earlier, not to pretend that’s us or that’s me, but just to highlight the good work already being done. That was critical for me, and to touch on that, all the names like you say, some pretty big names that agreed to be involved in this project, they did that with no hesitation and were generous with their time and they are just truly giving and passionate people that want to stand up for what’s right. I think those people should be celebrated and their message should be shared. The reason I wanted to share it was because it came out of a place of anger and frustration that this is happening in our waters, in our ocean that we put on tourism posters and we’re all very proud of, but then this is happening kind of behind a curtain. I just have this burning desire to share. I didn’t want to pretend, so I just wanted to share the voices of those who are working in this space.
There are some pretty graphic scenes of injured sea life used in the documentary, did you ever find it emotional at times during the filmmaking process?
Yeah look, editing, there is one scene in particular and I won’t spoil what it is, but when people go and see it, they’ll know what I’m talking about. There’s one scene in particular with a baby dolphin and it’s mother that was very rough to edit, watching that over and over and over again and go “no cut here and move that” just watching that thing over and over and over again, with the haunting sounds. So this stuff that just sticks with you that is hard. But at the end of the day, we can’t feel too sorry for ourselves for having to do that because a. we chose to and b. it’s an important message. Going through that and doing that with me and my editor will hopefully be worth it when things change. It’s not easy but for the viewer, I hope we balance it pretty well between all the beautiful cinematic stuff and then some of the not so pretty harsh realities of what happens off our coast. I think we balance that pretty well. We could have a lot more in but we didn’t want to break the audience.
There is a lot of information in the documentary that was not only new to me but also deeply shocking to hear, what can we do as an audience to help the cause?
The most important thing that everyone in society has is their voice and their circle, their sphere of influence like, yes, you might not be a celebrity with twenty million Instagram followers, but you know, 10, 20, 50, 100 people that you can have influence over and getting them to see the film, getting them to take the calls to action at the end of the film. We have a petition that’s running right now. It’s got 55,000 signatures. Once the film has been released after July 21, we will also have a protest and paddle out, so we hope to get people on beaches and using their voice. Those are the kinds of things that people can do, share with their circle and then if it spoke to you, fill out a petition at the very least and ideally stay tuned from our website or socials and even better come down and be present and use your voice to show that we don’t want this at our beaches anymore. That’s not us reinventing the wheel or being particularly clever. That’s us literally just stealing the playbook from Western Australia. So Western Australia had a trial cull for three months in 2014 and what I’ve just described is what stopped it, the petition and also getting down to beaches. That is in our credits, we show those protests grow in WA, in Perth, and that’s what ended it. So really we’re just stealing their playbook and just trying to do the same thing.
Thank you so much for your time Andre, I can’t wait to see everyone’s reaction to the film.
Envoy: Shark Cull is screening nationally in cinemas in Aus + NZ from July 21-25. Tickets on sale now!
3 SESSIONS ONLY – with a SPECIAL LIVE Q&A ZOOM EVENT on Wednesday 21st in most locations. Find ticket and cinema info at: watch.envoyfilm.com.au