There’s a big blue shark fin emerging, but it’s not coming from underwater.
It’s a foam shark fin hat bouncing atop the head of Susan Sigel Goldsmith, producer of Jawsfest: The Tribute landing on-Island August 9 through 12.
“We’re getting 10,000 of these. I’m worried that won’t be enough,” she laughed.
Preparing for the sea of people expected for the event, Ms. Sigel Goldsmith and her crew met with local business owners and Jaws lovers, including cast members from the movie, on Monday night at the Blue Canoe Restaurant to discuss this summer’s plans.
“People can hear those first three chords of John Williams’ theme and know they’re about to see one of the scariest movies in the world,” said Michelle Haynes, a Cape Air representative. “To be at the place where they actually shot it, that’s huge.”
Although Ms. Haynes said she could turn the sound off to the movie and probably recite every line, she does not quite consider herself a “fin-atic.”
But fan Donna Honig proudly does.
“I remember sitting down at the beach on the jetty back in ‘74. I was reading the book [by the late Peter Benchley] at the time, and a helicopter came flying over me. I thought ‘Oh no, I’m not to that part yet.’”
While Ms. Honig and many others have seen the movie hundreds of times, this year’s festival will be more than just films. Starting this week, a number of shark heads, crafted by marine life artist Paul McPhee, will be posted around the Island at participating businesses. The shark heads are hungry for spare change and loose bills, and the money collected will go towards Summer for the Sharks — an initiative started by the Jawsfest crew to promote shark conservation on the Vineyard.
After the release of the book and movie, Mr. Benchley became very involved in shark conservation, Ms. Sigel Goldsmith said.
“As part of our tribute to Peter [Benchley], and as part of our tribute to Bruce [the mechanical shark], we wanted to do a conservation component,” she said.
What was planned as a small part of the event has blossomed into an entire summer initiative.
Samantha Whitcraft, a conservation biologist for Shark Savers who helped launch Summer for the Sharks in March, said the intertwining of the Vineyard as pop culture legacy Amity island and, in reality a coastal economy, presents a unique opportunity for shark education and awareness.
Not only do many Islanders thrive on the thrills and memories of the movie, they are sustained by the ocean.
“It’s deeply concerning to be losing sharks at this speed,” said Ms. Whitcraft of the estimated 73 million sharks killed each year primarily to support the shark fin trade. “And not just for people who love sharks but for people who depend on the ocean for their livelihood. We need a healthy ocean, and a healthy ocean needs sharks. Sharks in the water are like lions or wolves on land — they play a key role in keeping ecosystems healthy.”
The shark is an apex predator — an animal with no predators of its own. While animals at the bottom of the food chain reproduce in vast quantities, sharks reproduce much later in life and with relatively few offspring, she said. When they are killed, it throws nature’s balance off, as there is a surplus of lower food chain species in the ocean.
In 2008, the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources published its Red List of Threatened Species, listing 50 shark species with high risks of extinction.
Another component of shark conservation is making people aware of the true nature of sharks, said Ms. Whitcraft. As a shark diver, she has been able to spend time in the water with a creature many people instinctively fear.
“There is a lot of residual fear of sharks because they are predators and as humans we have a natural anxiety about predators... but what we’ve learned is that sharks are amazing, beautiful and non-threatening, and we want to erase those irrational fears.”
Meeting with children at Island schools in March, Ms. Whitcraft was pleased to see the way the kids loved learning about sharks.
“They haven’t been exposed to shark mythology or fear,” she said. “When they are learning about sharks it’s like learning about dinosaurs — they are big, cool animals that they have awe and respect for. We want them to hold on to that feeling.”
Children will have the chance to show their appreciation for the creatures at the Sharks Arts and Conservation component of Jawsfest held at the old Oyster Bar, where kid-created shark art will be on display, along with work from artists like Paul McPhee, and poetry from the ongoing Shark Poetry Contest judged by the Martha’s Vineyard Poetry Society.
After behind-the-scenes stories and talks with shark experts, the four-day event will culminate with an outdoor screening of Jaws in Ocean Park.
Jawsfest: The Tribute coincides with Universal Studios 100th anniversary. Out of the nearly 5,000 films they created in that time, they selected twelve titles to be re-released as part of the centennial. Jaws was one of those twelve.
“It really gives you a sense of what the movie means to people. You can walk down Main street Edgartown or Menemsha harbor and it looks almost the same as it did 37 years ago,” said Ms. Sigel Goldsmith. “The Island has been vigilant about maintaining our identity and not changing too fast. For a fan, it’s like walking back into the movie set. It shows what a special place we are.”
As part of Summer for the Sharks, a free outdoor screening of Discovery’s Blue Water White Death will be shown tomorrow night, June 23, beginning at 8 p.m. outdoors in Owen Park, Vineyard Haven. The movie is hosted by the Martha’s Vineyard Film Society in collaboration with the Tisbury Business Association
Jawsfest: The Tribute will be held from August 9 through the 12. For a full schedule visit jawstribute.com.