Updated: Aug 5, 2021
Summer means heat, outdoor fun, a break from school, and for cinema fans, a new shark movie. This week’s entry comes in a tasteful form; not tasty as sharks might like, but with more class and style than most entries in the genre. Called Playing with Sharks, the documentary looks at diver Valerie Taylor, who with her husband Ron inadvertently contributed to the summer tradition of shark movies.
The two spearfishing champions from Australia led the way in underwater photography of sharks during the 1970s, leading to the documentary Blue Water, White Death. This, in turn, got them a job providing footage of real great white sharks that director Steven Spielberg inserted into his movie Jaws.
Nearly fifty years later, the impacts remain. In directing and compiling her own documentary Playing with Sharks, Sally Aitken benefits from access to the Taylors’ footage as well as Valerie herself. Now 85 years old, Taylor remains even more remarkable than in her early pioneering days as a gorgeous young woman fearlessly entering the water with sharks.
As Aitken’s new footage shows, Taylor needs help putting on her scuba set now, but she enthusiastically heads right into the waters off the coast of Fiji, doing just what the title says: playing with sharks. Specifically bull sharks, which many consider more dangerous than great whites. While a “don’t try this yourself” advisory seems warranted, Taylor’s goal involves helping others understand the wrongheadedness of wholesale shark slaughters — an activity the movie Jaws helped inspire. Offering plenty of visuals to make that point, Valerie Taylor and Playing with Sharks make ideal summer viewing.