Available on Disney + this July 23, Face aux requins is a film retracing the journey of Valerie Taylor, a great shark specialist. Meet the director Sally Aitken and the producer Bettina Dalton of this fascinating documentary.
A pioneer in making underwater films and shark research, Valerie Taylor’s lifetime achievement has become the basis for much of what we know about sharks today. Through remarkable archive footage and interviews with Valerie herself, Face aux requins is a documentary retracing her journey.
AlloCiné spoke with director Sally Aitken and producer Bettina Dalton of this exciting documentary film, available on Disney +, which follows the trajectory of this daring ocean explorer, spearfishing champion and passionate about shark protection , which will inspire Steven Spielberg himself for the realization of the cult The Teeth of the Sea.
AlloCiné: What made you want to make this documentary?
Bettina Dalton (producer): For me it was Valerie Taylor who is the main subject of the film, in addition to the sharks. The first time I discovered her she was on the cover of the American magazine “National Geographic”. She was in an “armor” suit, made of steel links, with a shark biting her arm! She appeared as an ocean superheroine.
Then, 20 years ago, I had the chance to produce a series of documentaries about her and her husband, Ron. And recently, finally, I saw that a movie had been made about activist Jane Goodall. It gave me the idea to make a film about Valerie who is an equally extraordinary woman and who has always fought for the environment. Moreover, I knew that there were a lot of archive images on Valérie since the 1950s that had never been used for a film.
Sadly, Ron, Valerie’s husband, did not survive her. But Val agreed to have a movie made about her. Besides, while laughing, she said to me: “Why did it take so long to come up with this wonderful idea?”. So we got to work immediately.
Sally Aitken (director): I joined the project with a bit of trepidation because I really wanted to make a film that honors Valerie’s magnificent work. I wanted to make Bettina and Valerie proud of my work. I’m not from the typical National Geographic documentary background, so I had to adapt to that environment.
But I immediately fell in love with this mythical character that is Valerie Taylor. What an extraordinary woman with her devoted passion for sharks! With this film, I wanted the viewer to really “dive” with Valerie into the heart of the ocean and meet these majestic creatures. I also wanted us to discover this universe through his eyes and his adventures.
At the end of the film, I hope you will have the same empathy as Valerie for these sharks. For her, they are more dogs that love to play than creatures with a deadly reputation.
Over the decades she has had a huge impact on so many people, it’s amazing. A bit like your Commander Cousteau in France. She is not ready to stop there, she continues to fight for all the creatures that inhabit our oceans, relentlessly and with perseverance.
What did you discover with Valérie while doing “Face aux requins”?
Sally Aitken: What’s great is that I find out every day, even doing this promotion of our movie, things, fantastic stories about Valerie. In fact, I hardly knew her. From the first day of our collaboration, I was dazzled by his fantastic journey. By making this film I reconnected with the ocean, which I have known well since childhood since I live between New Zealand and Australia, but which I had neglected a little.
Valerie gave me renewed love for the marine world. I feel much more responsible for the ecological balance of the oceans than before. I hope that people who watch this film will also feel concerned and will also support the efforts necessary to preserve our oceans.
Bettina Dalton: Even though I have known Valerie very well for a long time, I also discover things about her every day that I did not know. Like, for example, the fact that she can’t swim! In fact she explained to me that it is enough to feel good in the water and to dive with fins, the rest follows. What also surprised me is the fact that it is still so well known by new generations of young people passionate about the ocean and its mysteries.
Over the decades she has had a huge impact on so many people, it’s amazing. A bit like your Commander Cousteau in France. She is not ready to stop there, she continues to fight for all the creatures that inhabit our oceans, relentlessly and with perseverance. It is a force of nature!
Sally Aitken: I would like to add that Valerie also has an incredible sense of humor. Despite the seriousness of her mission, she knows how to laugh all the time and she never takes herself seriously. I think what motivates Valérie is her sense of action, her sense of duty to save this precious environment and all the creatures that inhabit it.
I think her passion stems from the fact that at the age of 12 she found herself standing still while contracting polio. I believe that by regaining her mobility she developed an extreme sense of always being on the move and in the heat of the moment. Some even say it’s kinetic energy in its raw state. Nothing can stop it!
What impact do you hope to create with this documentary film?
Bettina Dalton: Like Valerie, I hope that people watching this film will want to get involved in any action possible to save the oceans and their marine inhabitants. We really need everyone’s support to save our oceans. It is not yet too late. In any case, put on your swimsuit and dive into the adventure of the seabed.
Sally Aitken: I especially hope that our audience will have a complete change of scenery with this film. Like Bettina, I also hope that the environmental awareness of the underwater world will surface in the minds of the public and that they will want to be involved in such a crucial preservation process, especially at this time.