Front Row at the Movies by Shirrel Rhoades


This new film – “Nyad” – makes a splash close to home. You probably remember when in 2013 long-distance swimmer Diana Nyad became the first person to swim from Cuba to Key West (110 miles) without the aid of a shark cage. It was her fifth attempt. She did it at age 64.

Nyad gained national attention in 1975 when she swam around Manhattan (28 miles) and then again in 1979 when she swam from North Bimini to Juno Beach (102 miles). Both broke world records.

In 1978, Nyad made her first attempt to swim from Havana to Key West. She swam inside a 20-by-40-foot steel shark cage for nearly 42 hours, before strong Westerly winds and 8-foot swells slammed her against the cage and pushed her off-course towards Texas. When team doctors called it quits for her, she had covered 76 miles, but not in a straight line.

When she tried 33 years later, doctors worried about her age, but ultimately determined that sports physiology studies indicate that in “extreme” marathon-type activities, mental determination is more important than the physical energy of youth.

And Diana Nyad was certainly determined.

When asked about her motivation, she answered, “Because I’d like to prove to the other 60-year-olds that it is never too late to start your dreams.”

A new film – “Nyad” – tells the story. It’s playing at Tropic Cinema.

Starring Annette Bening as Diana Nyad, it is based on Nyad’s autobiography “Find a Way – The Inspiring Story of One Woman’s Pursuit of a Lifelong Dream.”

The New York Times describes it as “A story of refusing to accept, or be defined, by defeat.”

Hillary Clinton said, “When you’re facing big challenges in your life, you can think about Diana Nyad getting attacked by the lethal sting of box jelly fishes. And nearly anything else seems doable in comparison.”

As AP describes the new film: “When Diana hits the ocean, Bening turns into a ferociously forward-moving force who won’t let anything – not thunder storms, nor jelly fish stings – stop her in her quest.”

Here, Annette Bening (“American Beauty”) plays Diana Nyad as “obsessively single-minded to the point of unlikable.” The film is designed as a showcase for Bening, but Jodie Foster (“The Silence of the Lambs”) holds her own as the swimmer’s best friend and trainer, Bonnie Stoll.

Directors Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin mix in documentary footage, flashbacks, and scenes filmed on the Florida Straits to great effect.

Although this is their first scripted feature film, you may recall their documentary “Free Solo,” which won a 2019 Academy Award, and “The Rescue,” about those kids trapped in a Thai cave. This husband-and-wife team have a knack for films about physicality, and “Nyad” serves them well.

Rotten Tomatoes gives the film an 87%, saying, “‘Nyad’ is an uplifting sports biopic strictly on the merits of its story, but it’s the outstanding performances from Annette Bening and Jodie Foster that really keep this picture afloat.”

Nyad has described marathon swimming as a battle for survival against a brutal foe – the sea – and the only victory possible is to “touch the other shore.”

As it happens, Diana Nyad’s 2013 swim from Cuba to the Florida Keys was never ratified by the World Open Water Swimming Association. And some fellow marathon swimmers cast doubts on it. But this film not only accepts Nyad’s ultimate accomplishment, it celebrates it.

You should too.

Email Shirrel: srhoades@aol.com

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