New Film Chronicles Shark Attack Victim's Healing Through Faith

The film "Soul Surfer," opening nationwide this weekend,  tells the inspirational story of 21-year-old surfing champion Bethany Hamilton, who made headlines around the world after losing her left arm in a 2003 shark attack.

But what’s much less well-known is a key subplot of the film -- Hamilton’s reliance on her Christian faith to not only survive the trauma, but to get her back in the water and competitively surf again.

"Often times I was thinking why me? And what can we do from here and what is next? Because God's taught me that he has a purpose and a plan," Bethany said in an interview with Fox News this week.

The film stars AnnaSophia Robb as Hamilton, who endures a harrowing struggle to survive after the shark rips off her arm, causing her to lose 60 percent of her blood, while rescuers race against time to save her life. It then focuses on her challenging attempt to return to the sport that she loved - and that had practically defined her very existence before the attack.

"Having a relationship with Jesus Christ is what gets me through every day, and gives me the motivation and drive to surf the best that I can surf or go out and share my story."

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"Soul Surfer" is not specifically a faith-based movie. And the movie trailer doesn’t include any clue of the faith subplot. But because of the Hamilton family's strong faith,  it naturally became a focus of the film - something the family insisted on.

"We didn't want the aspects of faith to be watered down or diminished at all, but we wanted to do it in a tasteful way as well,"  said Tom Hamilton, Bethany’s father.

Director Sean McNamara agreed, but saw the risks of alienating both mainstream and faith-based audiences if not done right.

"I was looking to make a mainstream movie and Bethany's character in that movie is a Christian. I just wanted to make it authentic."

The danger was going too far in either direction - either leaving faith out, or putting too much in.

"Sometimes you can aim for both and miss both," said McNamara.

Target marketing has tried to strike a balance. A faith-based marketing company held nearly 100 screenings to church leaders and "influencers."

Sony and FilmDistrict, the Hollywood companies releasing the film, also held their own screenings.

Monique Sondag, Operations Manager of Lovell-Fairchild, the faith-based marketing company, says,  "Our screenings, however, have more of an outreach-grassroots approach. As we know through past projects it often takes the approval of the church and community leaders for folks to get behind it in terms of outreach."

Producers have also banked on mainstream casting. Helen Hunt and Dennis Quaid play Hamilton's parents and singer Carrie Underwood her youth pastor.

All the cast became close friends with the Hamilton family and understood how faith would be a foundational element of the movie.

"They didn't preach on the set or anything. But the cool thing is that Bethany doesn't have to talk about that because her strength and story does it for her," said Robb.

Bethany has high hopes for the film far beyond any box office success.  She says, "I hope it will inspire people in whatever they are going through, if it is a hard time, family life is rough or something unexpected happens, whatever it may be, they can see how my family and I got through it. And for us it is trusting in Jesus Christ. It might not be the same thing for them but I hope they can be inspired by the way we got through it and just that it can make a difference in their life."

“Soul Surfer” opens this weekend nationwide on 2,100 screens nationwide.