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Opening Night of the Third Annual Earth Focus Environmental Film Festival with NatGeo DocuFilm Playing With Sharks

By Judy Shields

Hollywood, California (The Hollywood Times) 04/13/2021

The West Coast premiere of Playing With Sharks, acquired by National Geographic Documentary Films at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival with plans to release it later this year, kicked off the Opening Night for the Third Annual Earth Focus Environmental Film Festival Monday night.

KCET/PBS SoCal have done it again.  They have picked yet another great documentary as their opening night film to kick off their Third Annual Earth Focus Environmental Film Festival.

This women driven documentary, from writer/director Sally Aitken, creator/producer Bettina Dalton and the subject of the film, Australian pioneering marine conservationist, cinematographer and renowned shark expert Valerie Taylor is truly a gem for all of us living here on Earth!  It pays tribute to a God-created creature that the majority of us fear, but should learn to appreciate and the oceans they live in. Judy Shields, The Hollywood Times

scuba diver Valerie Taylor

This documentary “Playing With Sharks” showcasing the extraordinary life story of pioneering scuba diver Valerie Taylor (pictured above) from 1960 through 1990s was so interesting and kept my eyes glued to my TV screen. The underwater shots were breathtaking, the amazing animal life that Valerie Taylor encountered, handled and caressed will have you wishing you could do the same.

Valerie Taylor has dedicated her life to exposing the myth surrounding the fear of sharks. What a brave woman she is and she was quoted as being the Jane Goodall of sharks. The way she learned that sharks were intelligent and taught them how to come to her to get small bites of food, then to go on and help with making a film called Blue Water, White Death in 1969.

Her husband Ron Taylor was an amazing photographer and brilliant cinematographer and captured his wife so breathlessly underwater. A timeless piece of true underwater filming of the Great White Shark. This led them to being asked to be part of Peter Benchley’s novel JAWS. They had received a letter from Universal and the novel and said yes. The REST IS HISTORY.  For all you Jaws fans, this documentary film is for you. I truly enjoyed and learned a few true Hollywood secrets about the making of Jaws.

The movie’s success also prompted phantom shark sightings at beaches and sparking a surge in thrill-seeking fishermen going out on shark hunts.  That experience fueled Taylor’s dedication to ocean conservation, which began with specific endangered species and extended to marine parks.

The end of the film features Valerie Taylor talking about the loss of her husband Ron (2012) and going back to places where they once dived to dive there again, in Fiji. Showing her dives long ago to those of recent years.  Very touching moments. Have some tissue handy.

The post-screening panel discussion with writer/director Sally Aitken (The Week The Women Went, The Pacific: In the Wake of Captain Cook), creator/producer Bettina Dalton (Big Red: The Kangaroo King, Borneo’s Secret Kingdom) and the subject of the film, Australian pioneering marine conservationist, cinematographer and renowned shark expert Valerie Taylor was moderated by KCETCINEMA SERIES host and Deadline chief film critic Pete Hammond.

You don’t want to miss the Q&A.  There were great questions and conversations about the making of Playing With Sharks from these three powerhouse women.

Director-screenwriter: Sally Aitken

Producer: Bettina Dalton

Executive producers: Alan Erson, Anna Godas, Oli Harbottle, Paul Wiegard

Directors of photography: Ron Taylor, Michael Latham, Judd Overton, Nathan Barlow, Toby Ralph, Jonathan Heighes

Music: Caitlyn Yeo

Editor: Adrian Rostirolla

General admission tickets are now onsale. Ticket options include a $45 all-access pass to attend all nine of the virtual film screenings and post-screening discussions taking place on the Eventive platform (the Earth Day film will be available on-air and online). Alternatively, $10 tickets will be available for individual screenings.

Check out the rest of the films here