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Inspired Surf

17 Jun, 2011 By: Ashley Ratcliff

Soul Surfer

Director Tugs at the Heart in Family Film 'Soul Surfer'

When budding surf sensation Bethany Hamilton lost her left arm in a shark attack in 2003, the whole world, including director Sean McNamara, was watching. As the Kauai, Hawaii, native made a speedy recovery after the harrowing ordeal, it was her faith and family’s support that helped her get back into the water.

McNamara, inspired by Hamilton’s story of survival and perseverance, pays particular attention to the athlete’s strong familial bond in Soul Surfer. Sony Pictures Home Entertainment releases the film on DVD ($30.99) and Blu-ray/DVD combo pack ($38.99) Aug. 2 (order date June 30).

“This didn’t just strike Bethany — it struck their whole family,” McNamara said. “They got much closer because of this tragedy, and their love of Jesus Christ and their feeling of ‘How are we going to solve this together?’ was paramount to me …

“They go to church together; they pray together. … They just connect as a family like no other family [I’ve seen],” he added. “It’s not to say that they don’t bicker and have family problems like brothers and sisters because they do.”

AnnaSophia Robb (Race to Witch Mountain) stars as Bethany, Dennis Quaid (Vantage Point) as father Tom, Helen Hunt (As Good as It Gets) as mother Cheri, and Ross Thomas and Chris Brochu as brothers Noah and Timmy, respectively. Carrie Underwood, Kevin Sorbo, Craig T. Nelson and David Chokachi also appear.

McNamara said he remembers being shocked at the news that a young girl had survived a shark attack off the North Shore of Oahu, Hawaii, because he had surfed those waters numerous times. Years later, when he read Hamilton’s book, Soul Surfer: A True Story of Faith, Family, and Fighting to Get Back on the Board, the director said he realized it was a story he had to retell.

“Everybody has bad days. We all have ups and downs,” McNamara said. “We complain about it. [It’s] human nature. Then I read this book about a 13-year-old who goes, ‘This tragedy happened to me, but I’m not going to let that stop me from following my dreams. I’m going to go out and surf some more’ …

“It’s almost as if she didn’t know any better,” he added. “… I felt like it was a metaphor for everybody’s life. … Life is difficult sometimes, but even after a tragedy, you can come back and follow your dreams.”

Just as the event occurred in real life, the shark attack scene in Soul Surfer pointedly was very brief. Hamilton recounted that it felt like something gently tugged her arm and within seconds, it was gone. However, McNamara meticulously shot that scene in six different locations and at various angles to get a fuller portrayal.

“It’s a family film, so I wanted to make it [happen] very quickly,” he said. “It’s a tragedy and it did happen, but then get on with the story. I tried to make an exciting race to the hospital because she was racing for her life, but I quickly was trying to get past the accident to move on to how does she recover from the accident.”

That’s at the heart of Hamilton’s story. She was attacked on Halloween morning. The day before Thanksgiving she was surfing again. Sixth months later she won fifth place in the NSSA National Championship. Hamilton, now a professional-level surfer, currently ranks 20th on the ASP Women’s Tour.

“Bethany Hamilton inspires people to go out and do good things in the world,” McNamara said. “I’m hoping that once people see the movie on DVD and Blu-ray that they, too, will enjoy Bethany’s story and go out and — no matter how they feel about setbacks they’ve had in their lives — follow their own dreams and passions to make something good in the world.”

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