In a film like Jaws, filmmakers must balance genuine tragedy with excitement. However, even a story that fascinates audiences does not compare to the real-world impact of these events. Sharks have long been the subject of filmmakers, both for conservation and cultural impact. After the Bite, a new documentary from director Ivy Meeropol, examines the town of Cape Cod after a fatal Shark Attack. As she explores the town, she witnesses shifting attitudes and the scientific hope to understand the creatures.
A series of shark attacks begin to occur off the coast of Cape Cod. After a young man – Arthur Medici – is fatally attacked by a shark, the town must reckon with its future as a seaside town. The town is torn between several ideologies. Some rely on the water and fish for their income. Others want to promote safer environments for humans over the conservation of sharks. At the same time, biologists try to find ways to stop attacks and conserve the ecological environment.
Meeropol embeds with various members of each group, helping draw a complete view of the town. When the camera team is with the people of the town, they express their frustrations. Some are angry about their livelihood disappearing. Another fisherman expresses remorse for contributing to overfishing issues.
Others express worry about climate change, with new species coming closer and closer to the beaches. From the south, fish flee to escape warmer waters. From the North, the melting ice caps are leaving creatures without habitats. Cape Cod finds itself in the middle of these two extremes.
Following scientists and those living in town, Meeropol gets considerable nature footage. Much of it feels unique, including adding trackers to sharks to watch their patterns of attack on seals. While this seemingly has little value, it can inform us how to avoid replicating these splash patterns.
Perhaps most worrisome, scientists worry about the threat of the next pandemic situation. More than ten percent of the seals surveyed during one testing session were infected with a strain of influenza. If this strain were to jump to humans, whether through contact with seals, birds, or other creatures, our bodies may not be ready for the virus that spreads. Meeropol explores this part of the story through natural progressions of thought. It does not come from right field but instead feels like the genuine exclamation point at the end of a sentence.
Meeropol lets the people of Cape Cod speak for themselves. If there are guided questions, they are not included. However, given the various conflicting ideologies on display, she appears to let her subjects voice their own fears and values. It’s a wise approach, as other nature documentaries have leaned too hard into using narration. Instead, After the Bite displays compelling arguments from the many viewpoints expressed in the film, never leaving those speaking about their experience to appear weak or uninformed.
While After the Bite leans towards conservation, it also asks audiences to think about our place in the world. The personal stakes for each participant may vary, but there’s power in understanding these differing viewpoints. Meeropol captures marvelous images, but it’s the small moments between the subjects that bring the film to life.