"Free Solo" Filmmakers Explore Thrilling Swim Drama 'Nyad'
Filmmakers Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin have made their first narrative film, "Nyad," featuring actors Annette Bening and Jodie Foster.
Filmmakers Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin have become known for their captivating documentaries that showcase extraordinary human achievements. From Alex Honnold's daring climb up Yosemite's El Capitan in "Free Solo" to the harrowing rescue of a trapped soccer team in "The Rescue," Vasarhelyi and Chin have a unique talent for capturing these awe-inspiring stories on film.
Their latest project, "Nyad," tells the incredible true story of Diana Nyad's 110-mile swim from Cuba to Key West at the age of 64. Unlike their previous documentaries, "Nyad" is a narrative film and features a cast of actors, including Annette Bening, Jodie Foster, and Rhys Ifans.
Vasarhelyi explains that while nonfiction filmmaking involves observation, working with actors allows for a new level of creativity and collaboration. The couple, who are married and have two children, were drawn to the story of Nyad and her impossible dream. They were also excited to explore a female perspective in their work.
Vasarhelyi's experience working as Mike Nichols' assistant on the film "Closer" gave her insight into the world of actors and rehearsals. She learned the importance of rehearsal and the power of the script. With "Nyad," Vasarhelyi and Chin had the opportunity to work closely with their cast and screenwriter, Julia Cox, thanks to a nine-month postponement.
Chin, who has experience filming top athletes, found that many of the lessons learned from working with athletes applied to working with actors. Their job was to create an environment for the actors to perform at their best and bring a certain energy to the set.
Working with actors also presented its own challenges. On the first day of filming, Foster was out on a boat, and the directors had to give her notes over a megaphone in front of the entire crew. While not ideal, it was a necessary compromise to stay on schedule.
Bening and Foster dedicated themselves to their roles, both mentally and physically. Bening spent a year training to swim and perfecting her strokes, preparing herself for the demanding scenes in the water.
The film portrays Nyad in a complex light, showing her determination and adherence to rules, but also her prickly and egotistical nature. Vasarhelyi believes that Nyad's story is important because it showcases a woman who was unafraid to pursue her dreams and fight for what she wanted.
The filmmakers enlisted the help of Oscar-winning cinematographer Claudio Miranda, who brought his expertise in shooting underwater scenes from "Life of Pi." While their resources were more limited compared to a big-budget film like "Life of Pi," Vasarhelyi and Chin made the most of what they had.
The production process was challenging, with long hours and technical difficulties, but there were also moments of triumph. One such moment was when Bening delivered a powerful performance on the first take, leaving everyone on set in tears.
Unfortunately, the ongoing actors strike has affected the release of "Nyad." Vasarhelyi and Chin had hoped to share the film with audiences and see their cast celebrated, but the strike has put a damper on those plans. Nevertheless, they respect the fight for fair contracts and understand the importance of the actors' cause.
In the end, "Nyad" is a testament to the power of human ambition and the incredible feats that individuals can achieve. Vasarhelyi and Chin have once again captured an extraordinary story on film, this time with the help of a talented cast of actors.