While the themes within “After the Bite” are as lasting as our ticking time on this planet, it focuses them on a tragedy in 2018, when a young man named Arthur Medici was attacked and killed by a shark off a beach in Wellfleet, Massachusetts. The attack wasn’t a fluke—great white sharks had been seen more often near the beaches in past years. But it inspired a wealth of various responses. Some people wanted to learn how to better live with them, like the scientists who tag sharks and can follow their movement. Others thought about where to place guilt: on bad infrastructure, on the ballooning seal population that mixes with human swimmers, and more.
Meeropol’s film doesn’t push the tensions in these head-butting perspectives or try to make much of a plot about them. But the documentary’s observant nature is plenty fascinating, as it looks at the many beings who feel the immediacy of this problem and are participants in an ecosystem that doesn’t prioritize a human’s safety. Suzy, a head lifeguard, tells us about a nightmare she has about a shark attack; John, a father, and resident of Wellfleet, talks about how he wouldn’t let his surfer daughter in the water after Arthur’s death, and tells a town hall meeting that humans are not being protected. “After the Bite” is full of plenty of food for thought about an issue that it magnifies and treats with many distinct POVs.
It’s not just through interviews, but with Meeropol’s following-around footage, like when we’re in Suzy’s car as she drives to work or on a boat with a group of fishermen venting about how global warming has altered the fishing scene, for both sharks and their livelihood. We even get a seal’s POV as a fisherman hawks chum into the blue; the camera is thrashed about, bumped into by leathery noses and whiskers. (Meeropol’s film has an important stance—it works to treat animals as equals.) In one concise passage after another, “After the Bite” looks at different players in this conundrum, putting a microscope on this community that has been polarized by terror.