‘Nyad’: A Tale of Tenacity Translated to Screen by Acclaimed Documentary Duo

by Lucas Garcia
Diana Nyad film

The acclaimed directorial pair, Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin, known for their pulse-raising documentary spectacles, have made the leap into narrative cinema with the engaging drama ‘Nyad,’ which chronicles the awe-inspiring journey of Diana Nyad’s Cuba to Key West swim at 64, now viewable on Netflix.

These filmmakers have previously captured heart-stopping true events, such as Alex Honnold’s death-defying ascent of El Capitan in the Academy Award-honored ‘Free Solo,’ and the harrowing underwater rescue in ‘The Rescue.’ Their deep insight into the psyche of individuals undertaking such herculean tasks is almost without rival in cinematic storytelling.

Thus, it was almost destined for Vasarhelyi and Chin to be drawn to—and possess the right skill set for—depicting Diana Nyad’s hazardous 110-mile swim through shark-infested waters in their first foray into narrative film. The transition from documentary to drama brought a new element to their filmmaking—working with professional actors.

Transitioning from the role of observer in documentary filmmaking to that of a participant was a revelation for Vasarhelyi, she expressed to The Big Big News. The fictional narrative offered a new avenue of expression, magnified by their accomplished lead actors—Annette Bening as Nyad, Jodie Foster as her confidant and coach Bonnie Stoll, and Rhys Ifans as the expedition’s navigator.

Vasarhelyi and Chin, both having two children and married, had been probing the narrative domain when the ‘Nyad’ script appeared before them. It resonated with their affinity for narratives about individuals chasing dreams against the odds, particularly through a female-centric lens.

With a background that includes being Mike Nichols’ assistant on ‘Closer’ twenty years prior, Vasarhelyi wasn’t entirely new to directing actors. She reminisced about the invaluable learning experience, noting the paramount importance of rehearsal and script integrity.

The pandemic-induced delay of nine months allowed for a deeper engagement with the material alongside their actors and screenwriter, Julia Cox. Much like coaching athletes, Vasarhelyi and Chin found their expertise in creating conducive environments for performance applied to actors as well.

Despite the pressure of their debut in narrative directing, Chin spoke of the formidable first-day experience, delivering direction via megaphone to a decorated actor like Foster, under the gaze of an extensive crew. This approach, albeit unconventional, was vital to adhere to the shooting schedule.

Bening and Foster immersed themselves fully, both mentally and physically, embodying their characters after spending considerable time with the real-life figures and undergoing rigorous physical preparation. Bening’s commitment included a year of swimming training, crucial for authenticity in the role.

Vasarhelyi applauded Bening for her portrayal of Nyad, emphasizing her readiness to embody a multifaceted and at times, not entirely likable character. The film, while honoring Nyad’s strict adherence to the rules of her monumental, unassisted swim, does not shy away from portraying her more abrasive traits.

The production was also graced with the expertise of Claudio Miranda, an Oscar-winning cinematographer known for his work on ‘Life of Pi.’ Despite the more modest resources compared to Miranda’s past projects, the challenges were abundant, including the complexity of working with prosthetics and the unpredictability of water scenes.

Yet, amidst these challenges, there were moments of magic, such as Bening perfectly capturing Nyad’s victorious beach landing on the first attempt, moving the entire crew to tears.

The release of ‘Nyad’ has been somewhat overshadowed by the ongoing actors strike, which has affected the film’s ability to celebrate its cast and crew’s efforts. Despite these hurdles, Vasarhelyi holds the actors’ struggle in high regard, acknowledging the significance of their plight, while also expressing a desire for the film’s contributors, especially Bening, to receive their due recognition.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Diana Nyad film

Who are the filmmakers behind the narrative film ‘Nyad’?

Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin, who have previously won an Oscar for the documentary ‘Free Solo’, are the filmmakers who ventured into narrative cinema with the film ‘Nyad’.

What is the film ‘Nyad’ about?

‘Nyad’ is a narrative drama that tells the true story of Diana Nyad’s historic 110-mile swim from Cuba to Key West at the age of 64, a feat she completed without the aid of a shark cage.

How does the film ‘Nyad’ differ from the filmmakers’ previous works?

Unlike their documentary works like ‘Free Solo’ and ‘The Rescue’, ‘Nyad’ is a narrative film that involves professional actors to tell the story, marking the filmmakers’ first departure from documentary to narrative cinema.

Who stars in the film ‘Nyad’?

Annette Bening stars as Diana Nyad, with Jodie Foster playing the role of her friend and coach Bonnie Stoll, and Rhys Ifans portraying the expedition’s navigator.

How did the actors prepare for their roles in ‘Nyad’?

Both Annette Bening and Jodie Foster undertook significant physical and intellectual preparation for their roles, including Bening training for a year in swimming to accurately depict Nyad’s endurance and Foster working closely to capture the essence of Nyad’s coach.

What were some of the challenges faced during the making of ‘Nyad’?

The filmmakers encountered various challenges, such as working with prosthetics, managing complex water scenes, and coordinating the cast and crew under time constraints, especially with the restrictions brought on by the actors’ strike at the time of the film’s release.

Has the film ‘Nyad’ received any particular acclaim or recognition?

While the film’s release was impacted by the ongoing actors’ strike, it features standout performances, particularly by Annette Bening, whose portrayal of Diana Nyad is anticipated to be celebrated for its depth and authenticity.

More about Diana Nyad film

You may also like


Mike O'Donnell November 5, 2023 - 3:51 pm

gotta say, Vasarhelyi and Chin are really pushing the envelope here, moving from those intense docs to a full-blown narrative piece with Nyad. Excited to see how they’ve transferred their knack for storytelling into this new format.

Emily Rivera November 5, 2023 - 4:31 pm

Interesting how they said the experience with athletes helped them work with actors. Not something you’d think is transferable skills but makes sense when you think about performance and focus under pressure.

David Chen November 5, 2023 - 7:45 pm

That bit about Chin and Vasarhelyi directing via megaphone on their first day is classic. talk about trial by fire for first time narrative directors, right? Shows that even oscar winners gotta start somewhere with new challenges.

Sarah Goldberg November 5, 2023 - 8:36 pm

i heard about Nyad’s epic swim before but seeing it come to life through Benning and Foster’s performance is gonna be something else, can’t wait to watch it.

Jake Simmons November 5, 2023 - 8:59 pm

I think it’s cool they brought on Claudio Miranda for the cinematography, guy’s a legend after Life of Pi. Sure, the ‘Nyad’ budget’s not at the same level but bet he worked his magic.


Leave a Comment


BNB – Big Big News is a news portal that offers the latest news from around the world. BNB – Big Big News focuses on providing readers with the most up-to-date information from the U.S. and abroad, covering a wide range of topics, including politics, sports, entertainment, business, health, and more.

Editors' Picks

Latest News

© 2023 BBN – Big Big News