Film about shark attack victim tells story of faith

ContributedOn April 8 Soul Surfer will bring to the screen Bethany Hamilton's thrilling, true story of losing an arm to a tiger shark attack and, with her faith, determination, and family support, returning to champion-level surfing.

The film, rated PG, offers something for every audience member: stunning shots of competitive surfing, touching moments of faith from a family facing tragedy, and inspiring scenes of Hamilton learning that God can use her circumstances to help others.

It features an all-star cast, including AnnaSophia Robb and Helen Hunt, with Carrie Underwood in her film debut, and Dennis Quaid. Quaid, who had recently faced his own near tragedy with his infant twins, joined the project after hearing Hamilton tell her story on a national morning television show.

Behind-the-camera, veteran director Sean McNamara has 15 feature films to his credit, including extensive experience working with young actors including Shia LaBeouf and Hilary Duff. Soul Surfer is based on the book by Hamilton, Sheryl Berk and Rick Bundschuh. 

Rich Peluso, vice president of AFFIRM Films, a division of Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions, worked with the writers, producers, and the Hamilton family to integrate the family's real story and faith into the film. AFFIRM Films will oversee marketing to the faith audience.

"It's been an absolute honor and thrill to get to know and work with Bethany, the Hamilton family, and our amazing group of producers," said Rich Peluso, vice president of AFFIRM Films. "Everyone's worked hard to faithfully tell this story in a way that is both completely accessible and entertaining to a wide mainstream audience, and also conveys in a natural way the love for God that pours out of the family."

"Through conversations with pastors and other leaders in the faith community, we know our audience today wants quality films with high production values, well-known talent, and a biblical worldview," Peluso said. "Soul Surfer delivers on all points. It is the story of a Christian family facing sudden tragedy . . . and triumphing through faith. The Hamiltons rely on God in forming their response to Bethany's new circumstance."


It was in 2003, only weeks after Hamilton and her mom, Cheri (portrayed by Helen Hunt in the film), prayed for God to reveal His purpose for Bethany's life, that the young surfing champion lost her arm in the shark attack. Prayer sustained her against the odds, and she found strength in her Christian faith, her family, and her church. In less than a month, she was back in the water and on the path to return to championship form.

"It was hard at first; I think that was a natural feeling," said Noah Hamilton, Bethany's oldest brother. "And there was definitely some questioning: 'God, why Bethany, she had such an amazing future, why?' But in the hospital, when we saw that joy of the Lord in Bethany, with no self pity and grateful to be alive, that really pulled me out of despair."

And it affected others the same way. Mail began to pour into the Hamilton's house, letters of encouragement and prayer from thousands of people worldwide. Without knowing it at first, Bethany had also become their encourager. Many of those who wrote began by telling of a seemingly insurmountable circumstance, but after hearing Bethany's story, they found renewed hope and courage to face it head on.

"We never know what life brings," Hamilton said. "Maybe there are some rough times for you now or in the future. I think that if you seek God first and focus on Him, you'll be able to endure those struggles and hardships."

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