Tribeca 2018: Bethany Hamilton: Unstoppable

Bethany Hamilton in Bali, Indonesia, from BETHANY HAMILTON: UNSTOPPABLE. Photo credit: Aaron Lieber.

Bethany Hamilton: Unstoppable shows that there is more to Bethany Hamilton than just being the surfer who was attacked by a shark.

Bethany Hamilton lost her arm to a tiger shark while surfing in October 2003.  Most people would give up on their big dreams after such an event but Bethany Hamilton isn’t most people.  The Hawaiian native, a daughter of two surfers, would persevere and compete in the National Amateur Competition a mere nine months after the accident.  For most people, this would seem impossible.

Jaws is known for being an iconic wave that many surfers want to surf but it’s also a very dangerous wave.  Yet Hamilton made it a goal to surf said wave within a year of becoming a mother to a son, Tobias.  It may not have been the best idea at the time to go back to surfing while getting back into shape.  That being said, Hamilton has proven over the years that nothing can stop her from accomplishing what she wants.

Not only did she accomplish her mission of surfing on a Jaws wave but she took third place at the Fiji Pro event on the World Surf League (WSL) Championship Tour.  She did so after beating a six-time World Champion in addition to the 2016 World Champion.

A powerful moment in the film comes when Hamilton decides that she doesn’t want to be nominated for the ESPY Awards in the category of Best Female Athlete with a Disability.  It’s powerful because the message it sends is that she doesn’t want to be that person who is always placed into a box for losing her arm to a shark.  It could have happened to anyone that day!  Hamilton has come so far since October 2003.  She took a first place in an event shortly after recovering from the accident, much thanks to a special handle on her board to enable the duck dives.

The documentary marks the feature directorial debut for director Aaron Lieber, who started working on the film in 2014.  This was 11 years after the shark attack to put things in perspective but there’s archival footage of the subsequent press tour, including for her book.  It’s a well-made first feature and the Hawaiian views are so majestic.

If there’s anything to take away from Bethany Hamilton: Unstoppable, it’s that anyone can do anything if they put their mind to it.  While Soul Surfer may have been a narrative feature, Bethany Hamilton: Unstoppable opens the door into the surfer’s life and takes us to unexpected places.

DIRECTOR:  Aaron Lieber
FEATURING:  Bethany Hamilton, Adam Dirks, Alana Blanchard, Carissa Moore, Coco Ho, Kelly Slater

An official selection of the 2018 Tribeca Film Festival, Bethany Hamilton: Unstoppable premiered in the Spotlight Documentary program.

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.

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