Ever since Steven Spielberg’s career-launching blockbuster “Jaws” broke out in 1975, the world’s obsession with sharks has not slackened. Evidence of this is the glut of films – and TV series – about the much-maligned and misunderstood predator.
“The movie ‘Jaws’ had a massive impact on me becoming a filmmaker, and it began my lifelong fascination with sharks,” said director-producer Stephen Scarlata whose documentary “Sharksploitation” participates in the Frontières co-production market, organized by the Fantasia International Film Festival in tandem with Cannes’ Marché du Film.
Scarlata (“Jodorowsky’s Dune”) and his team recently secured an all-important interview with marine and environmental conservation advocate Wendy Benchley, who was married to late “Jaws” author Peter Benchley.
Benchley is known to have expressed his deep regret about the characterization of the shark in his bestselling novel that Spielberg adapted. “There is no such thing as a rogue shark which develops a taste for human flesh. No one appreciates how vulnerable they are to destruction,” he said at the time.
Produced by Scarlata, Kerry Deignan Roy (“Leap of Faith: William Friedkin on the Exorcist”) and Josh Miller (“Sonic the Hedgehog”), the feature-length documentary will delve into the sub-genre of sharksploitation films, from Corman’s 1958 “She Gods of Shark Reef” to the release of “Jaws” and the subsequent knock-offs.
Listing a dizzying array of shark-themed films ranging from four official “Jaws” movies – including one unofficial Italian rip-off – to the “Mega Shark” and “Sharktopus” franchises and six equally absurd “Sharknado” iterations, Scarlata said: “I love these films, and with each one I watch, my love grows more vital for the species, and my heart breaks more over the horrors they go through in everyday life, from overfishing to shark finning.” In fact, Nature journal reported in January that “…since 1970, the global abundance of oceanic sharks and rays has declined by 71% owing to an 18-fold increase in relative fishing pressure.”
“This documentary is the ultimate love letter to the shark movie genre, filmmakers who work hard to make these films, and to the misunderstood species themselves,” he added.
Scarlata said they expect to be interviewing more filmmakers and conservation/marine biologists after Frontières. Multiple interviews already recorded include ones with the likes of Roger Corman, producer of “Sharktopus” and “Dinoshark”; Joe Dante, who directed Corman’s “Piranha”; Carl Gottlieb, writer of “Jaws” 1, 2 and 3; Johannes Roberts, helmer of “47 Meters Down” and Mario Van Pebbles, who starred in “Jaws the Revenge.”
“Through interviews with filmmakers, critics, scholars, and conservationists we will explore the colossal challenge of making these films, the cultural imprint they’ve left on audiences, and their impact on this misunderstood species,” said Scarlata and his team.
Ultimately, they hope that audiences will come away not only entertained but with a better understanding of sharks.