“Nyad” directors on Annette Bening Jodie Foster

Oscar-winning documentarians Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin chose a fitting subject for this transition to traditional narrative film: Diana Nyad, the athlete who swam from Cuba to Florida in 2013 at the age of 64.

The directing duo “Nyad” won an Oscar in 2019 for the climbing documentary “Free Solo” and received critical acclaim for “Mero” from 2015 and “The Rescue” from 2021 (courage and daring).

Nyad burned with passion to complete the swim, a feat she had previously had to abandon four times; her first time in her twenties. So she planned to swim 100 miles at an age when most people are retiring. Nyad, played with breathtaking conviction by Annette Bening, was greatly supported by her friend and trainer Bonnie Stoll (Jodie Foster as the film’s quiet heart) and her star navigator John Bartlett (a wonderful Rhys Ifans). The film also makes ample use of actual historical footage of Nyad, as it covers all of her experiments where she encounters storms and jellyfish.

“To put it this way: I always thought I would shoot in the Alps or beyond [Yosemite’s] “El Capitan would be a very, very big challenge – and it is – but when you’re filming in water there are just so many more variables,” says Chin.

Chin credits DP Claudio Miranda, who also directed “Life of Pi,” for the immersive feel and look of the film.

But Diana Nyad is not a warm and fuzzy character – and screenwriter Julia Cox wrote a selfish, angry, smart, charismatic and ambitious woman who manages to inspire those around her to help her achieve her goals. “I think one thing that’s a little difficult about Diana is that she’s so well-spoken and so intelligent, and that’s also intimidating. But we really wanted to be able to show her weaknesses and everything,” says Vasarhelyi, adding that Foster’s character helped make the audience understand Nyad.

Both point out that Foster and Bening came to the set full of research. And both began training more than a year before the cameras rolled.

Bening’s skills in the water blew everyone away. “We were like, holy shit. She’s a really graceful, beautiful swimmer, and that was great in a lot of ways – that set the tone because then everyone was like, “Okay, she’s put in a lot of effort.” She’s developed into an athlete at that age, um to make this film. “Everyone has to reach the level they play at,” says China, adding, “And admittedly, we had all these stunt doubles. Well, they never swam.”

Of course, the real Diana Nyad was also there to provide advice on the following topics: What does the skin look like after 20 hours in the water? How do you provide yourself with nutrients when swimming marathon? What goes through a marathon runner’s mind while swimming? (For Nyad these are rock hits in 4/4 time, it is better to keep a steady tempo.)

A group of marathon swimmers claimed they cheated in their successful attempt. It’s not addressed openly in the film, and the filmmakers sound tired when asked about it, although they acknowledge some of Nyad’s previous exaggerations of her achievements. Vasarhelyi reminds that they are non-fiction filmmakers and came to the project with a lot of research and fact-checking. “And honestly, we were very aware of it. … She’s a triggering, complicated person and I think we wouldn’t necessarily be having this conversation if she were a man.”

Chin says that 40 people in five boats documented their swimming: “All 40 people kept some kind of secret for many years. There is no doubt she swam 110 miles from Cuba to Florida.”
In the end, it is a story of triumph, friendship and humility. “It was truly inspiring to see these incredibly impressive actors do this kind of work. There was something about the grace of the crew and the actors that made this very difficult or ambitious shoot possible.”

https://variety.com/2023/film/news/nyad-elizabeth-chai-vasarhelyi-jimmy-chin-annette-bening-jodie-foster-1235717049/ “Nyad” directors on Annette Bening Jodie Foster


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