A Q&A with director David Diley
© Amanda Cotton at A Cotton Photo
Sharing water with 60-odd bull sharks isn’t everyone’s idea of fun. But then David Diley isn’t your average Joe – which is partly why he gave up his job in the north of England and headed to Fiji to make a very personal film about Shark Reef, its finned residents and the amazing people involved in its conservation. We caught up with the avid shark-enthusiast and talented film-maker behind Of Shark and Man, in order to hear all about his experiences in Fiji and his love of sharks
When did you first become interested in sharks?
At the age of three, so almost my entire life! My grandparents lived in Prestatyn in Wales; on one occasion when we were visiting, we found a dead Tope (a small shark found in UK waters). I was fascinated by it and my dad, being a keen naturalist, told me all about it. Later that day, an advert came on TV for Jaws; my dad jokingly told me that, had the Tope grown up to be an adult, it would have become just like Jaws. I was hooked from then!
How did Of Shark and Man come about?
I knew about the story of Fiji’s Shark Reef beforehand, albeit very briefly, after reading about it in around 2004. At the time, I thought it would make a great documentary; I hoped somebody would make it one day. In 2010, when I had really begun to question what I was doing in my life, I figured that, if nobody else was going to tell that story, it was an opportunity to do it myself.
Tell us about Shark Reef…
It’s an amazing place, located in Beqa Passage, just off the coast of Pacific Harbour on the south coast of Fiji’s main island, Viti Levu. It’s home to 500 species of marine life, eight different species of sharks and, without a doubt, the best shark dive in the world. For a long time, the reef was completely fished out – it was only the implementation of the shark dive and the creation of the marine reserve there that helped bring it back to life. Now, not only is it a protected area where marine life really flourishes, it also has a massively positive impact on the local communities and Fijian tourism.
How important are sharks within Fijian culture?
Sharks are extremely important to certain Fijian tribes; they are embedded in their culture. It’s not that long ago that Fijians worshipped spirit gods, usually animals, and the shark was one of their most famous. Because of that spiritual connection, Fijians still have a deep respect for sharks, and there are several well-known stories and legends among certain tribes.
© Amanda Cotton at A Cotton Photo
What’s your favourite part of the film, and why?
I think the final dive sequence is my favourite part of the film and it’s certainly the bit that audiences always comment on. It’s so dramatic and visceral and it took a long time to get it right. I edited that sequence over the course of about a month and put a lot of thought into the music, the pacing and the sound design. I also have to give credit to my Sound Designer, David Lawrie, who worked extremely hard to give the sequence some serious muscle in the sonic aspects.
Where can we see the film?
The film isn’t currently available online or as a DVD or Blu-Ray yet; however, I have developed a commercial screening package, which includes a Q&A with me after the film. I’ve just returned from one in Dubai which was a great success; if anyone wants to contact me about organising a screening, they are very welcome to do so by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
What do you love about Fiji?
Everything. The diving, the people, the marine life, the culture, everything about it left a truly lasting impression on me. I’d love to go back one day and do a screening of the film there!
How did you feel on the shark dives?
I loved every second. I find diving with sharks to actually be quite relaxing, there’s something almost spiritual in being a visitor in a world we’re not meant to be in; just being able to be a part of their day was such a thrill for me. There weren’t really any hairy moments; they would occasionally come closer and bump me, but nothing that really made me afraid.
What do we need to do to help sharks have a healthy future, in Fiji and beyond?
We need to accept that sharks are vital to healthy oceans and that, as a commodity, a live shark used for ecotourism purposes is worth far more alive than dead. That’s the beauty of the Shark Reef story, it encompasses that whole idea perhaps better than anywhere else on the planet. Shark fishing will never end, but if we as a society can implement changes that view sharks as a benefit to us rather than a menace, that would be a great start.
Where is your favourite place in Fiji and why? What five things should visitors do?
It has to be Shark Reef, that place changed my life! I would encourage people to do the shark dive with Beqa Adventure Divers. Visit the inner island because it is stunning; if you can, visit a local village and actually meet people in their normal environment. I would also recommend a trip to Suva to see the vibrant colours and experience life in the capital. Finally, no trip to Fiji would be complete without taking part in a kava ceremony!
What can we learn from Fiji?
The power of positive thinking and the importance of ‘boots on the ground’, when it comes to conservation. In general, I think Fiji teaches us that we can all smile a little more than we perhaps do already!