The Shark Fan Who Set Up a ‘Sharksploitation’ Movie Fest

"I wanted to pay my respects."
Alexis Ferenczi
Paris, FR
Deep Blue Sea – Photo of a man in a while lab coat placing something inside the mouth of a big shark while looking terrified.
Photo: Deep Blue Sea © Village Roadshow Pictures

This article originally appeared on VICE France.

Fabien Delage has dedicated a large chunk of his life to sharks. But instead of diving to the bottom of the ocean to film their mating rituals or feeding frenzies, he organised a festival entirely dedicated to shark movies. The Paris Shark Fest, which took place between the 17th and the 19th of September, featured the best cinema releases and made-for-TV movies the sharksploitation genre has to offer, plus a few documentaries. 


This specific subgenre of exploitation movies – which capitalise on appealing to very niche audiences or replicating trends – first gained popularity with the film Jaws and has been capturing moviegoers’ imagination ever since. We talked to Delage about how his passion was born and why shark movies have such an enduring appeal.

VICE: Hi Fabien. How do people become fans of the genre?
Fabien Delage:
By watching Jaws (1975). It’s a rite of passage, a sort of baptism. It’s the film that launched all shark fans into the deep end. To call yourself a sharksploitation aficionado, I’d say you have to have watched it at least ten times [laughs].

Tell me about the first time you watched it.
I was eight and I was at my nanny’s. I was already into sharks but I’d never watched a horror movie before. I was playing in front of the TV with my toy cars and my nanny was watching it with her husband. I only caught a few snippets of the movie but some scenes were kind of disturbing, I couldn’t stop thinking about them in the following days.

I was both terrified and fascinated – just like everyone who’s just watched Jaws for the first time. Then I rewatched it on VHS. You don’t become a shark fan on the spot – at first you mostly have nightmares about them – but it’s an experience that sticks with you.


What makes sharks such a good movie villain?
Sharks embody our fear of the unknown and of depths. The ocean is a world that doesn’t belong to mankind. It’s a hostile environment – you can’t see the bottom, you can’t stand on your feet and before you know it, you end up thinking of all the creatures that could be underneath you and could suddenly snatch you from the surface. Steven Spielberg capitalised on those fears and created a sea monster; a cinema monster.

What did you watch after Jaws?
In the early 90s, the only [new] shark movie releases [available in cinemas] were Italian sharksploitation movies, which weren’t very accessible for the average Joe. [In the 80s, the horror B movie genre was very prolific in Italy and included many shark-themed releases, but they weren’t widely distributed abroad.]

That’s why I turned to watch Jaws’s sequels [on VHS]. By the way, Jaws 2 (1978) is the best sequel. Universal made a lot of cash on that one, it only cost €26 million and made ten times its budget. Then they made all the cheesier sequels, Jaws 3-D (1983) and Jaws: The Revenge (1987). It’s a matter of personal taste, but I still enjoy them. I think of them as pure entertainment, plus they paved the path for a lot of other movies.

What role do shark movies play in the B movie universe?
It’s one of the main subgenres. I prefer shark movies to slashers, I find them quite repetitive. OK, shark movies have recurrent tropes too – like the “should we or shouldn’t we close the beach” moment – but it’s a genre that never gets old. Deep Blue Sea (1999) gave it a new humph.


The movie was a launchpad for sharksploitation as we know it today and it’s the first one to mix CGI sharks and mechanical sharks [to create the images]. With the release of Sharknado (2013) and Sharktopus (2010), audiences could enjoy both the entertaining and the thriller aspect of the subgenre. You plug off your brain, you grab a beer, popcorn and pizza and you watch it to have a laugh.

Do you prefer when movies use CGI or mechanical models to create the scenes with the sharks?
I like both. In Ghost Shark (2013), a really trashy movie, they created their shark scenes with mechanical models on a green screen, as if they had got a replica of Bruce [the nickname of the mechanical shark used on the set of Jaws]. I love these kinds of movies.

More recently, I thought The Shallows (2016) did a pretty good job, although the fact that a shark would hunt down its prey like a maniac wasn’t very realistic. But technically speaking, it was one of the best CGI effects ever made. I also enjoyed watching 47 Meters Down, which has a particularly freaky attack scene, and its sequel 47 Meters Down: Unchained. Honestly, there’s something for everyone.

Why did you decide to also show documentaries at the festival?
It was a natural choice. I didn’t want to only show trashy B movies, I wanted to pay my respects to sharks. The documentaries showcase important issues – they denounce the massacres perpetrated by governments [across the world] and try to propose solutions to safeguard this animal species from human activity. I’ve already dived with the sharks and I am an activist in my own ways. Shark movies can serve as a platform to encourage audiences to educate themselves about sharks and how to protect them.

Do you think audiences are becoming more aware of these issues?
I think some people are open to the message of [NGOs like] Sea Shepherd or Sharks Mission France, which we also hosted at the festival. They know sharks aren’t as dangerous as they are portrayed to be – you’re more likely to die from a bee sting or a mosquito bite. The goal of my festival is to bust myths about sharks and to raise awareness.

Are you going to direct your own shark movie one day?
I actually shot a pilot for a series inspired by the universe of The Meg (2018). Unfortunately, we were short on money for post-production and since we shot a lot on green screen, the series came to a dead end. I don’t think it will ever come out. It’s a pity because it was about a world inspired by the Jurassic Park franchise, set in the Mariana Trench [the deepest point in the ocean] where people decided to build an underwater park for millionaires with a bunch of different creatures.

What movie would you recommend to our readers?
Envoy: Shark Cull (2021), no doubt. It’s a documentary that exposes the Australian programme to control the country’s shark population and their massacre. The government wants to make sure sharks don’t come close to the shore and swimmers, but the result is fully-fledged extermination of the species. It features the main figures in shark preservation like Ocean Ramsey or Madison Steward and many beautiful images of white sharks.