‘Air Jaws’ filmmaker Jeff Kurr just wants you to love sharks

The 2020 edition of Shark Week kicks off on Aug. 16. (Supplied)
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Updated 08 August 2020

‘Air Jaws’ filmmaker Jeff Kurr just wants you to love sharks

  • Shark Week returns to our screens Aug. 16, and the legendary natural history filmmaker has teed up more flying sharks, more riveting underwater encounters and more...

DUBAI: After almost 30 years filming Great Whites, Jeff Kurr has the art of the understatement down pat.

When asked what a person should do if he/she encounters a shark, he replied: “Well, don’t try to out-swim it, because that’s not going to work. Sharks are extremely fast.” 

Yeah, thanks for that, Jeff.

The natural history filmmaker has been an integral part of Discovery Channel’s Shark Week since 1991 (it began just three years earlier). But as we prepare for the 2020 edition on Aug. 16, we should remember that it’s Kurr’s job to remain calm in the choppiest of waters. And that includes when a 15-foot, 2,000-lb Great White named Colossus is breaching just 10 feet away from you. 

How’s this for some advice: If you find yourself in the water with a shark, stare it down.

The natural history filmmaker has been an integral part of Discovery Channel’s Shark Week since 1991. Supplied

“Let the shark know that you see it because that eliminates the element of surprise and ambush that most sharks will use,” he said. “The shark can actually tell when you’re looking at it, so if you’re staring it down, it has a tendency to think, ‘Well, I guess you saw me. I can’t sneak up on you. I’m out of here.’”

Like most people, Kurr’s fascination with sharks came via the 1975 movie, “Jaws.” It was a relationship borne out of fear, but that’s something that both Kurr and Shark Week strive to change.

“After ‘Jaws,’ I was terrified. I don’t think I even got in the ocean for a couple of years, but as I learned more about sharks and then started diving with them, all that fear was erased. I realized that if you get in the water with a shark, he’s not going to come in and immediately try to bite you. I actually find most sharks to be quite shy,” he said.

And while the sight of a shark breaching the ocean at 25mph with a seal clenched firmly between its jaws might not seem to convey the idea of a shy animal, the reality of Shark Week is education. And it’s working, too. Over the years, Kurr has seen the shark go from feared beast to the most popular wild animal in the world, which is important — without them, we have a big problem.

Kurr’s fascination with sharks came via the 1975 movie, “Jaws.” Supplied

“Sharks are at the top of the food chain, and they keep the ocean balanced and healthy by removing some of the animals that are sick, injured, and overpopulating,” explained Kurr. “It’s extremely important that we protect these sharks to keep the entire ocean healthy and balanced.”

Anybody who follows Shark Week will know that one of its most amazing aspects is the tech behind it. Each year, producers somehow create a machine capable of footage that will blow your mind. Not that the gadgets are always successful. But for every motorized seal that “sprung a leak, dropped like a stone, and was eaten by a shark on its way down” or giant crane that was “so big it almost sunk the boat,” there’s a drone cam that helps make programs resembling a shark version of the Matrix.

“This year we created a tow camera that puts us at sea-level to collect shots of the breaches. A shot from water-level of a shark flying through the air is probably one of the most amazing scenes I’ve ever seen captured,” Kurr said.

Anybody who follows Shark Week will know that one of its most amazing aspects is the tech behind it. Supplied

While Kurr’s iconic Air Jaws show  — 20 years and running — is always the go-to watch for Shark Week fans, you can’t argue with the variety in the 2020 schedule. How about Mike Tyson versus sharks? Or Will Smith in the water being scared of sharks? Or even Snoop Dogg sorting out his craziest shark encounters? They are all genuine programs this year. 

As for Kurr, he just keeps going and getting better shots, with little thought to his own safety.

“When I’m filming sharks, I don’t really think about myself because I’m so focused on getting the shot,” he said. “That’s really all that matters. I rely on our planning to keep us safe. But sometimes, I do look back and get scared after the fact. It makes me wonder… just why did I put myself in that situation?” 

Shark Week will premiere in the region from Sunday, Aug. 16 on Discovery Channel (OSN channel 500).

Paris exhibition sheds light on the now-departed Jews of Morocco

Updated 25 September 2020

Paris exhibition sheds light on the now-departed Jews of Morocco

  • Co-curator explains extraordinary tale of discovering an image of her then-teenage father in French photographer’s collection of shots from the 1930s

DUBAI: The largest Jewish population that ever existed in the Arab world was in Morocco, which was home to over 250,000 Jews by the 1940s. A free photography exhibition, which runs at the Museum of the Art and History of Judaism (mahJ) in Paris until May next year, offers a rare insight into their lives there.

“Juifs du Maroc” showcases around 60 black-and-white photographs and drawings by the late French photographer and painter Jean Besancenot, who travelled to Morocco several times and became enamored with the culture there.

The images on display were photographed between 1934 and 1937. They are both intimate and a documentary-like portrayal of Morocco’s Jewish community — some of men, women and children posing in elaborate attire against a neutral background, others of people practicing daily activities of baking, brewing, and reading. Overall, the exhibition preserves and presents “a priceless record of rural Jewish communities in Morocco no longer in existence,” according to a statement published by the museum.

Erfoud, Tafilalet Region Rouhama and Sarah Abehassera in Wedding Suits mahJ. (Adagp, Paris, 2020) 

One of the driving forces behind “Juifs du Maroc” is co-curator Hannah Assouline, a French photographer with more than 30 years of experience, who was born in Algeria and resides in Paris. The exhibition is a particularly personal endeavor for Assouline, since one of the photographs on display is of her father, a then-adolescent Rabbi Messaoud Assouline, who came from a destitute family. The story of how she found this valuable photograph is one of coming full circle and an unlikely coincidence.

“I met Jean Besancenot in 1985, when my interest in photography began,” Assouline told Arab News with some translation help from her assistant Paul. “As soon as Besancenot saw me, he immediately knew where I was from. He told me, ‘You come from Tafilalet (a region in southern Morocco) and you are a Jew.’

“I wanted to buy pictures from him, but since I didn’t have enough money I couldn’t buy a lot,” she continued, adding that Besancenot had 2,800 photographs portraying the Jewish world of Morocco. “He showed me more than 100 pictures — all of Jewish people, among them were many girls and young women.”

Goulmima, Tafilalet Region Young Woman in White mahJ. (Adagp, Paris, 2020)

By chance, Assouline came across a snapshot from 1935 of a very young married couple, and noticed that the boy resembled one of her nephews. Intrigued, Assouline purchased the photograph — along with six more as gifts for her siblings — and was eager to show it to her family.

“I went to my parents’ home to show them the pictures on a Friday night, which is Shabbat,” she said. “My father was very religious and didn’t want to see the pictures on Shabbat. When he finally agreed to look at the pictures, he said in Arabic: ‘It’s me!’ He had never seen this picture before — it took him 50 years to see it. He went through exile, war, moved to a new country with a new story and, in the end, he found his picture.”

It turned out that Assouline’s then-13-year-old father — timid and barefoot — was only playing the part of a groom and was photographed in Erfoud, one of the centers of Moroccan Jewish life at a time when the North African country was a French protectorate.

Erfoud, Tafilalet Region Messaoud Assouline (Tinghir, 1922 – Jerusalem, 2007), 13 years old, in Wedding Suit 
Hannah Assouline Collection. (Adagp, Paris, 2020)

The reason why Besancenot was exploring and documenting these closed-off regions was that he was commissioned by the Foreign Ministry and the then newly built Musée de l’Homme in Paris to carry out ethnographical work — through detailed notes, films, and colorful drawings — of traditional Moroccan clothing. In the publicity for the exhibition, the museum notes of the female costumes and adornments that their “repertoire is sometimes common with that of Muslim women.”

The presence of Jewish women dominates Besancenot’s work. Their imposing headpieces and voluminous layering of necklaces, earrings and bracelets was central to their identity, beauty, and in some cases, social status. “In some of the pictures, you’ll see women wearing torn, old clothes but they’re still wearing all their jewelry,” Assouline noted.

“I love the pictures, because Besancenot was a real human,” she said of the photographer’s compositions. “He took pictures without judgment. The pictures are very sensible and he was very close to the sitters. He came often to Morocco to see the people. It was not a one-time shoot – he came day after day to talk with everyone and then he took the pictures. The exhibition is set between 1934 and 1937, but he always came back to Morocco. All his life, he circled around that country.”