‘Playing With Sharks’ at the Sag Harbor Cinema

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Valerie with "Bruce" the mechanical Great White during the filming of "Jaws."

Sag Harbor Cinema joins Hamptons Doc in celebrating Earth Day this year with a special screening of National Geographic Documentary Films’ “Playing with Sharks” on Saturday, April 24, at 7 p.m., in SHC’s Theater 1, followed by a Zoom conversation with writer/director Sally Aitken, producer Bettina Dalton and Valerie Taylor.

One of the hottest films at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival, “Playing with Sharks” captures the life of a woman ahead of her time — a fearless diver, cinematographer and pioneering conservationist whose work would forever change our understanding of the ocean’s most magnificent apex predators.

“With its intrepid heroine, toothy co-stars and beautiful underwater cinematography, mostly rare and archival, ‘Playing with Sharks’ is the perfect film to salute the wonders of wildlife,” says Sag Harbor Cinema’s artistic director Giulia D’Agnolo Vallan. “We are delighted by this new collaboration with Hamptons Doc.”

Valerie Taylor in water wearing a chain mail suit in “Playing with Sharks,” directed by Sally Aitken. Photo courtesy of Ron and Valerie Taylor.

“Just watch Valerie Taylor’s underwater dance with sharks and you’ll learn the rewards of embracing nature,” adds Jacqui Lofaro, Executive Director of Hamptons Doc Fest. “It’s an earth day celebration in film we are delighted to share on the Sag Harbor Cinema’s big new screen.”

As a young woman in Australia in the 1950s, Taylor bucked the status quo, becoming a champion spearfisher in a sport dominated by men. She soon traded in her spear for a camera, documenting the undersea world as never before. With husband Ron behind the lens and Valerie’s willingness to get up close and personal with creatures of the deep, the team quickly gained attention as world-class, pioneering underwater filmmakers. The first to film a great white underwater, their shark sequences ultimately became the inspiration for a new novel and soon-to-be blockbuster hit — “Jaws” — with Valerie and Ron brought on to shoot all the underwater live shark scenes. The rest is cinema history.

As “Jaws’” smashing global success had the unforeseen consequence of solidifying sharks in the collective mindset as underwater monsters to be feared and hunted, Valerie would spend the rest of her life working to set the record straight, dispelling the fearsome misconceptions about the toothy predator and advocating for the protection and preservation of marine habitats such as the Great Barrier Reef.

For tickets to this screening go to hamptonsdocfest.com.  Sag Harbor Cinema is at 90 Main Street in Sag Harbor.

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