Directed by: Ivy Meeropol
Premise: A documentary about the residents of Cape Cod, Massachusetts coping with the influx of great white sharks in the local waters.
What Works: After the Bite initially presents itself as a shark attack documentary but it gradually opens up to be about much more than that. The film captures a moment of severe change in Cape Cod’s environment and the way the locals cope with those changes. As presented in After the Bite, the seal population in Massachusetts has exploded since the passage of the Marine Mammal Protection Act in 1972. As the seals have returned to Cape Cod so have the great white sharks that prey on the seals. The presence of the seals has caused irritation while the sharks have inspired fear especially after several attacks on swimmers. After the Bite is a fascinating portrait of a community that is divided about who is to blame and what to do. It’s a complex matter in which the needs and expectations of the locals run into the priorities of scientists and ecologists. For instance, as interviewees point out, the Marine Mammal Protection Act was designed to bring these animals back from the brink of extinction—which it has—but the law has no provision to identify when that goal has been achieved. This is a documentary about long term and short term management of natural resources and how attempts to control and guide nature may have unintended consequences. The film also documents competing priorities of public safety, ecology, and economics. There are no easy answers and the documentary is appropriately nuanced.
What Doesn’t: After the Bite takes a wide look at the many environmental variables in Cape Cod but it leaves some of these topics only half explored. Some commercial fishermen interviewed early in the documentary claim that fish stocks are down because of the competition with seals. A later interviewee says the seals are a scapegoat and that local fisheries have been over exploited. The film never reaches a conclusion to this matter. There are implications that the presence of seals and sharks is having an adverse impact on the economy but those claims are anecdotal. There is also the fear of shark attacks. As shown in the documentary, the locals got very upset following the death of a swimmer. But in 2022 101 Massachusetts pedestrians were killed by automobiles and in 2021 fifty-eight people died of drowning. The film doesn’t explore the reasons for the disproportionate response to shark attacks.
Disc extras: Available on Max.
Bottom Line: After the Bite is a thoughtful documentary about our relationship with nature. While it leaves some topics only half-explored, After the Bite is a compelling portrait of the complexities of environmental management.
Episode: #964 (September 10, 2023)