‘Jaws’ draws fans of the 1975 classic to Martha’s Vineyard for festival
EDGARTOWN — They’re lurking out there, often quietly, but possibly closer than you think. And they’ve come hungry to Martha’s Vineyard.
“Jaws” fanatics from across the country have descended on the island where the 1975 cinema classic was filmed, gathering in packs of diehards to hunt down actors from the movie and prowl the locations where legendary scenes were shot.
The second-ever Jawsfest started Thursday, just weeks after a great white shark bit a Truro swimmer in the legs in the state’s first confirmed attack in more than 70 years. It has all felt more than a little like Amity, the fictional island setting for “Jaws.”
“It wouldn’t be Amity if there weren’t the threat of a shark somewhere,” said 42-year-old John Carroll, an enthusiast from Atlanta.
Seven years after the island’s first Jawsfest, this year’s sequel has consisted of a four-day lineup of autograph signings, panel discussions, and a Saturday evening screening of the film.
A representative for the MV Promotions Network, which produced the festival, said organizers did not have a total attendance figure, but turnout seemed to be strong. A Thursday evening discussion of the movie’s production, one of a dozen events listed for that day, drew about 100 fans to a park in Vineyard Haven.
For all of the official events, fans said much of the excitement comes just from meeting others who share the same passion.
“It’s like we’ve known each other our whole lives,” Carroll said, standing outside the Martha’s Vineyard Surfside Motel in Oak Bluffs, where many of the devotees are staying. “There was no awkwardness whatsoever.”
It helps, of course, that many of those meeting for the first time have known one another for years through websites devoted to the film.
Such sites have been a revelation for fans like David Frieden, a 48-year-old from Atlanta.
“Before the Internet, in my mind I was like, ‘Am I the only one who is obsessed with the movie ‘Jaws?’ ” Frieden said, standing in the Surfside’s courtyard and sporting a tattoo on one of his thick biceps. “I thought I was the only idiot out there who was obsessed with it, besides my wife.”
Not so. Frieden found his way to chat rooms devoted to the movie and started corresponding with other aficionados, among them John Konrardy, a warehouse manager from Dubuque, Iowa.
Konrardy was 7 when the book “Jaws” came out, and he vividly remembers reading it a few chapters at a time in a bookstore during outings to the mall with his mother. Though his parents felt he was too young for the movie, he persuaded his uncle to take him.
“That night I ended up sleeping on my mom and dad’s bedroom floor,” he said. “I was so scared.”
Frieden and Konrardy have talked for six years online about the movie, and after meeting for the first time this week, they’re sharing a room this weekend at the Surfside.
“I come here, and I feel like it’s family,” said Konrardy, as he and Frieden sipped cans of Busch beer in the hotel’s courtyard Thursday evening. “A lot of these people today I’ve met for the first time, and nobody’s phony. Everybody’s just genuine.”
For Frieden, watching “Jaws” takes him back to “a time and place in your life.”
“It’s a land of no worries, care-free, and ‘Jaws’ comes out, and it grabs you,” he said. “When I watch it now, I go back to 1975 and relive it. But the bonus is now you relive it with friends who share the same memories.”
Konrardy and Frieden spent Wednesday night in the home of Lou and Dianna “Yana” Pisano, a couple from Western Massachusetts.
The Pisanos are a power couple among “Jaws” fans, having filmed three tributes to the movie on the Vineyard.
Both have day jobs — he does data entry, she works for a local college — and they planned to end their amateur filmmaking career after the three movies. Their fans would hear none of it.
A Facebook page titled, “We Want ‘Lou and Yana’s JawsFest 4’ ” has 565 “likes.”
So the couple are back, and busy, filming their fourth — and final, they insist — installment.
“When we started making the pilgrimages, at first, I’ll be honest with you, I didn’t really get it,” Dianna said. “I was happy to do what we were doing, but I didn’t understand why it was so important that this particular scene was filmed here. Until afterward, when we did meet more ‘Jaws’ fans and I realized, ‘Wow, people really do care, and they really do love this.’ ”
Dianna learned about her husband’s obsession early in their courtship, she said. Lou, who does all the shooting and nearly all the production of the documentaries, said “Jaws” was “perfect in every way.”
“All my life, people thought I was weird for thinking that, but the older I got, I realized, ‘Wow, this movie is perfect,’ ” he said. “Everything about it is legendary — the music, the director, the dialogue, the poster image.”
The couple, who mail their DVDs to fans as far away as Australia and make no profit on them, said the recent shark attack in Truro backs up their “Jaws”-inspired decision to avoid swimming in the ocean.
Indeed, while the attack was the first confirmed since 1936, shark spottings near Cape Cod have steadily increased since 2009, said Greg Skomal, a leading shark specialist with the Division of Marine Fisheries.
Standing near a two-story inflatable shark slide at a Jawsfest event, Skomal connected the increase in sightings to a surge in the local seal population.
“Basically, the cafe is open,” Skomal said. “Where you see high, predictable concentrations of seals, you will see white sharks take interest.”
Still, several people at Jawsfest said they remained unafraid. One of them was staff member Chris Kiszka, who collects memorabilia and hopes to someday open a “Jaws” museum. “I’ve owned a harpoon gun since I was 5,” said Kiszka, who wore a shark tooth necklace and a homemade shark ring. “How would I be afraid?”
Also unshaken was Carroll, the Atlanta enthusiast. In Jaws circles, Carroll goes by the nickname CC, after Carcharodon carcharias, the scientific name assigned to the great white.
More than three decades have passed since he first saw “Jaws,” but on Thursday, a day he took a bus tour of filming locations on Martha’s Vineyard, he said his passion for the film endures.
“Walking out of the theater, I thought that was my all-time favorite movie,” Carroll said. “And that’s never changed.”