Professional surfer and outspoken Christian Bethany Hamilton is the subject of the new documentary “Bethany Hamilton: Unstoppable,” and says God is responsible for giving her a story that can inspire others.
The popular shark attack survivor behind the blockbuster film "Soul Surfer" will now give viewers an intimate look at her personal life, struggles, victories and challenges in the new Entertainment Studios documentary releasing in theaters nationwide on July 12.
The film follows Hamilton as she tackles motherhood when she least expects it, her comeback to becoming one of the top surfing champions in the world, and the first time she takes on massive wave surfing. The female athlete has become a source of motivation to millions through her story of determination, faith and hope after she lost her left arm to a 14-foot tiger shark at age 13.
“My new film ‘Bethany Hamilton: Unstoppable’ is so special to me and here’s why: God gave me a story that so many people can find hope in, in their own life,” Hamilton told The Christian Post on Wednesday.
“We all have unexpected twists and turns in life. We all have circumstances that come out of nowhere and throw a wrench in our plans. Yet it is possible to overcome them and to value the beautiful things in life. And not only that, but thrive and accomplish more than we or anyone else thought possible!”
While still competing and setting records, the inspiring surfer turned role model is set on helping others.
“That’s why now everything I’m working toward, from this movie to my website, to my new online course (The Unstoppable Year), is all aimed at equipping and giving people tools to learn to be unstoppable too. And we know that is ultimately through Christ,” she testified.
The stunning cinematography from “Bethany Hamilton: Unstoppable” was captured by the film's director Aaron Lieber who has been making surf films for almost two decades.
"When I first met her and saw her surfing abilities, she was surfing with a world champ that was a friend of hers, and she was surfing at that same level. That was the initial inspiration to make a film with her, it was to really showcase her talent as a surfer,” Lieber told CP.
The filmmaker originally was going to make a short six-minute surf film based on Hamilton’s abilities but after spending some time with her the project evolved. Six years later it is now a 90-minute full documentary of her showcasing both her skill and tenacity.
"Starting out making this film six years ago, I didn't know I was going to do with everything that we did,” Lieber admitted. “I followed her life for four-and-a-half years and I just trusted my gut and my intuition that after enough time, I would have enough material to make a film. I didn't know that all the things that ended up happening in the film would happen, it all really happened.”
“For me, I think filming and traveling with them was always about being prepared. So whether it was a having a GoPro in my pocket or a GH4 around my neck or my red camera, like always having a camera ready to capture moments as they happen. Once I realized that I had enough of that material. It was September 2016,” he shared.
Lieber captured 80 terabytes of footage and had over 500 hours of archives to go through once it was all said and done. The footage gives viewers a glimpse into the beauty of surfing and Hamilton’s unbelievable courage.
He teamed up with two female producers and a female lead editor, Carol Martori, who all have 20 years of background doing long-form narrative stories.
"They came in and really helped guide the film, to make sure it wasn't just another surf film. It was really a story of a girl becoming a woman and all these other elements were kind of included in a much more dynamic way that I just couldn't have done alone," Lieber said.
It took a year of editing to finally get everything they needed. Bethany’s steadfast faith in God, however, posed a challenge for them post-production.
"I guess a challenge from a story perspective, is that Bethany didn't waver in her faith. She felt a certain way before the attack and she felt the same way after. So from a story perspective, you don't have a crisis faith,” he explained. “That actually made it a little challenging to figure out how to incorporate it in a story.”
“What we ended up doing was at the end of the film, we tried to make things feel really impactful. At one point she's looking down at a camera and says it's really God who's got her through all these things,” he added.
Hamilton’s faith is in fact featured throughout the whole film because of how ingrained it is in her.
"You can tell we're not speaking about any specific thing, but you get to see the way she lives her life and acknowledges Jesus as her Savior and how she feels when she's up on stage — all these different moments in her life, when she's having a kid ..,” Liber continued. “I think the best leaders speak through their actions. She's such an athlete that I think that's kind of her language anyway, to lead by example.”
"From her perspective and mine that has been her backbone — to trust God's plan and to just know that whatever He throws her way that she can handle it and overcome. That doesn't mean it's easy and she shows that vulnerability in the film,” he added.
Lieber felt it was important with the arc of Hamilton’s faith to show the reality that life isn't always easy.
“We all face struggles and we all have to make choices and in those hard times, she'll take a minute or a week to find her grounding and then move forward. I think it's a powerful message for everybody,” he noted.
In “Bethany Hamilton: Unstoppable” viewers will get a glimpse into the Hawaii native’s marriage to Adam Dirks and her journey into motherhood. Both life events give a glimpse into Hamilton’s unique relationship dynamics.
"I think another part of the film is challenging perception and adaptation of the modern family because the conservative Christian part of the country believe maybe that women should be a stay at home mom. So I think it's kind of a fresh way to like, look at things and show that there are other options. It is not for everybody, but there are other paths to still walking in God's life and being a powerful woman and having a powerful husband. They're just an awesome team,” Lieber said.
In the film, Hamilton reveals she wasn't ready to be a mom, a struggle Lieber admitted he had no idea women face.
"Hopefully it's through her sharing that, women can connect with each other and have these conversations and grow in that giant transition in their lives,” he said. “I think becoming a mom and watching her become a mom and Adam become a dad, them figuring out parenthood, is challenging. I don't know if there are that many other films where you really get to see somebody like Bethany being willing and vulnerable to share that journey. And I think it's a pretty powerful message.”
When asked why he thought Hamilton was “unstoppable” despite the obstacles that have come her way, Lieber, who followed her life closely for several years, compared her to some of the greatest athletes.
"I view her as a super athlete. I would compare her to a Serena Williams or a Kobe Bryant or Kelly Slater. If you look at her competing when she was younger, she had that X factor that these really amazing athletes have. They have this internal drive to just push themselves. So maybe her athletic accomplishments aren't what they would have been with two arms, but you can see that she's still a world class athlete regardless. I just look at her as a person and she has these God-given abilities, and she never let go of her passion and drive to be the best version of herself,” he said.
The documentary is opening in 205 theaters on Friday and the filmmaker believes it's important for young girls to have an opportunity to see themselves on a big screen.
"At these film festivals, I've seen some young girls that come and their eyes are just so big. For Bethany to be this positive, uplifting role model and then for these girls to go, 'Oh, wow, like, I can do that too,'” he shared.
Liber also wants everyone who sees the film to learn from Hamilton’s example.
"I think a lot of people get stuck with big a decision or problems, whether it's a mental problem or physical problem, or whatever people face in a challenge, they can get stuck in a gray area of 'well, maybe this or maybe that.' I think Bethany does a really good job of making things a black or white decision: 'I'm either gonna surf again, or I'm not.' She makes a yes or no decision and I think that's a powerful way to look at some of our problems. You can succumb to fear, or you can overcome it. She always chooses to overcome,” he concluded.
"I hope people watch and are just inspired and motivated to get out there and tackle their own challenges. You also notice through the film, I feel like God put so many people in her life to help her,” Liber ended.
“Bethany Hamilton: Unstoppable” opens in theaters nationwide on Friday.