The Dark Hobby sounds like the name of a horror film with a gruesome murder, gut-wrenching gore, and destruction on a volatile level. Director Paula Fouce’s film is undeniably all of those things, just not in the way you think. Instead, this documentary focuses on the destruction of Hawaii’s precious coral reefs and the cruel practices of the aquarium trade. Screenwriters Fouce, William Hauge, and Timothy Kettle have created a call-to-action in this gripping tale about saving our reefs before it’s too late.
Clocking in about an hour and twelve minutes, the film does an excellent job of pacing itself. It efficiently sets up the primary causes for reef destruction, the dangers of the aquarium trade, and the impacts on Hawaiian culture without ever feeling overwhelming. Even in the interviews with activists and experts on marine life, the film maintains its momentum.
“…about the front lines of protecting culture and ecosystems.”
The underwater footage is gorgeous and honestly the core selling point of The Dark Hobby. The seven directors of photography on this project capture the reefs and fish beautifully. The director brilliantly juxtaposes this footage with the destruction of these ecosystems in an impactful way. Seeing a shimmering school of fish is mesmerizing; cutting to those same fish sprayed with cyanide is horrifying. It is enough to make you reconsider, “where do those fish at the pet store come from?”
One of my biggest pet peeves about call-to-action documentaries is unrealistic expectations or solutions. Too often, such films seem to end on “we should just ban all of (insert bad thing),” or they spend too much time preaching to the choir rather than trying to convince the undecided. Fouce excels at conveying solutions to stop these harmful industries and practices. The film makes rational arguments about the destruction of the reefs and Hawaiian culture in the process. Beyond the debates, the footage alone does an excellent job persuading the undecided viewer to question the morality of the aquarium trade.
I found The Dark Hobby to be an engaging documentary about the front lines of protecting culture and ecosystems. However, the film does have some abrupt moments, almost an “it’s got great pacing until it doesn’t” kind of film. Otherwise, it is a thoughtful argument in favor of animal rights, environmental protection, and keeping Hawaii beautiful.