In the winter of 1973 Joe Alves, production director for Jaws, began his quest to find the perfect setting for Amity Island.
From Montauk to Marblehead, Martha’s Vineyard was the place that met Mr. Alves’s criteria.
“Edgartown was so pristine with the white picket fences and white buildings,” he said. “It was a wonderful place to be terrified by a shark. Then when I got to Menemsha it was a great fishing village with all the little shacks. It was absolutely perfect.”
The place known as Amity Island to many will be the setting for this weekend’s Jawsfest: the Tribute. The event, which runs from August 9 to 12, has everything from a three-story inflatable shark ride to a Saturday night screening of Jaws at Ocean Park. It will focus both on how the making of Jaws affected those who had a part in it and how it continues to affect people today, from the members of the film team to lifetime fans and so-called fin-atics.
Fans Campbell and Carrie McKerracher will be coming to Jawsfest all the way from Glasgow, Scotland, to celebrate their one-year anniversary.
“Carrie has always loved sharks, and she absolutely adores the film. It’s always been a passion, and I’ve done my best to satisfy that passion,” Mr. McKerracher told the Gazette by telephone yesterday.
In fact, he proposed to his wife on the Jaws ride at Universal Studios.
In the thrilling boat ride, the visitors get chased by a shark and the skipper on board tries to kill him, pointing and shouting at the shark when it first appears.
“She knew exactly when and where the shark would come up,” he remembers. “So she looked at the shark, it didn’t pop out, she looked at the skipper, he was pointing at me, and I was down on my knee in the boat.”
The two of them will be visiting the Island for the first time.
“She honestly can’t wait, she’s so excited,” he said. “She’s bringing all her books and things to get signed.”
Susan Sigel Goldsmith, producer of Jawsfest, expects at least a few thousand people to attend.
“There are more people who think of Martha’s Vineyard as Amity Island more than as Martha’s Vineyard,” Ms. Sigel Goldsmith declared. “That’s what is so special . . . for a fan it’s like walking back into the movie set.”
In addition to scouting the right location, Mr. Alves sketched 24 charcoal drawings of the first shark concepts and 300 storyboards, a handful of which will be featured in Behind the Screams, an exhibit of collectibles and memorabilia from the making of Jaws at the Dr. Daniel Fisher House. Alongside the sketches will be the original cage from the movie, full-sized replicas of the three main characters, and a replica of poor Chrissie’s arm, complete with rings from CB Stark Jewelry.
But this year’s Jawsfest isn’t all Hollywood. Mr. Alves will be one of the many VIPs speaking at the six Living Jaws Sessions, which will cover everything from special effects to shark conservation.
Wendy Benchley, author Peter Benchley’s widow and board president of Shark Savers, said she and her husband quickly become involved with shark conservation after his book was published.
“When Jaws hit all those years ago, there was sort of a momentary spasm of great fear,” she said. “But a lot of that fear turned into people interested in sharks.”
The Benchleys traveled the world shark diving and saw firsthand the suffering sharks endured from long-line fishing and finning, the practice, now banned in some countries, of removing only the fin from sharks.
“I think the public is ready to understand and listen to the fact that sharks are in trouble,” Mrs. Benchley said. “We all know that we need sharks in the ocean. We have to be conscious about when and where we swim, and realize that it is their ocean and we are visitors there.”
The shark is an apex predator, which means it has no predator of its own. The higher on the food chain, the less an animal reproduces as they breed much later in life. When sharks are killed, the lower food chain species reproduce without predation, throwing the chain off balance.
In 2008, the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources published its red list of threatened species, listing 50 shark species at high risk for extinction.
Mrs. Benchley and Shark Savers are part of the conservation component of Jawsfest, hosting the Shark, Arts and Conservation exhibit at the old Oyster Bar.
Children and adults will have the chance to show their appreciation for the sea kings with kid-crafted shark art on display, along with marine masterpieces from Islanders and washashores alike, and selected works from the shark poetry contest judged by the Martha’s Vineyard Poetry Society.
“Peter would be thrilled,” said Mrs. Benchley. “Even when he was alive we got letters all the time from teachers around the world saying they were using Jaws as an education tool. We are still able to use Jaws as a vehicle for other people to get involved in the ocean and sharks.”
She added: “I remember Peter saying, ‘I’m trying to write this book about a fish and we are going to be really lucky if I can get this thing written.’ We were counting on our aunts and uncles and grandparents to buy it . . . It’s quite amazing now, the phenomenon of Jaws. It seems to transcend generations.”
For complete details about Jawsfest: the Tribute, visit jawstribute.com. To donate to shark conservation, text JAWS to 56512.