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South By Southwest Film Interview – THE OTHER SHORE director Timothy Wheeler

by Jason Whyte

“The Other Shore follows world record holder and legendary swimmer Diana Nyad as she comes out of a thirty-year retirement to re-attempt an elusive dream: swimming 103 miles non-stop from Cuba to Florida without the use of a shark cage. The film chronicles the story beyond the international press headlines at the edge of The Devil's Triangle, with venomous jellyfish, tropical storms, hypothermia, sharks, and one of the strongest ocean currents in the world, all proving to be life-threatening realities.  But even though this film details the herculean effort Diana has put into accomplishing this dangerous swim dream, this is not a film about swimming. This film is about commitment and drive to fulfill a dream at whatever cost. And Diana open’s her self up in a way that has not been seen during her 30+ years in the public eye.” Director Timothy Wheeler on “The Other Shore” which screens at this year's South By Southwest Film.

Is this your first SxSW/Austin experience?

 Yes, this is my first time to Austin and to SXSW.  I am thrilled to go to SXSW.  And even though I knew this story is edgy and appealing enough for the young crowd at SXSW.  This is so validating about how wide our audience reach is.  I mean, we have a film about a 60-something-year-old swimming!  Yet Diana is so charismatic and such a maverick that her age doesn’t matter. Who else can swim 60 hours non-stop?

Tell me a bit about your background and how you became a filmmaker.

I love documentary filmmaking because you get to live dozens of lives while exploring rich stories in different places and cultures around the world.   I have sailed with indigenous canoe builders from Dominica, stayed at the palace of President Sirleaf in Liberia, and ripped through 50-foot waves with the Sea Shepherds in Antarctica for Discovery/Animal Planet’s Whale Wars.  I became interested in storytelling when I was working for a non-profit in a neighborhood of Bogota, Colombia called El Cartucho with a marginalized community of war victims.  There were so many important stories that I knew had to be told but I hadn’t yet found my medium to tell these stories.  That’s when I went to UC Berkeley to get formal training in journalism. I came out not only with a masters but a new love for visual storytelling and documentary. Years later, The Other Shore is my feature documentary directorial debut and it really feels as though every subject from every past project is here with me now.

What was the biggest challenge, or challenges, in making the film?
There were so many challenges in making this film that it is laughable to try and name one as the biggest.  Visas, hurricanes, sharks, jelly fish, funding, 400+ hours of footage, last minute flights to Cuba, lives on hold for months, years, on end; take your pick!  These were all quite challenging.  But what was probably most challenging is seeing Diana in imminent life threatening situations.  And Diana is also my aunt.  So, I have even deeper concern for Diana as I watched her in some horrific and heartbreaking moments.  It was tough not to intervene at times, while I needed to maintain my position as Director and keep the cameras rolling.

What was your single favorite moment out of the entire production?

My single favourite moment of the production was finally making it to the Cuban shore to start the swim.  That was a huge victory in itself.  More than 50 swim crew members had their lives on hold for more than a year because of the roller coaster of issues including visas, hurricanes, ocean temperature, and currents. There was so much excitement in the air when arrived in Cuba between the Nyad swim crew, international journalists, and the enormous Cuban posse that was there to greet us.  What a magical time!

What keeps you going while making a movie? What drives you?

What keeps me going is knowing what an awesome story I have in my hands.  It can be a rough road in independent filmmaking with logistical, financial, and sometimes personal challenges.  But it is so worth it.[br]

I would love to know about the technical side of the film, your relationship to the director of photography, what the movie was shot on and why it was decided to be filmed this way.
I have the fortunate position to being the director and the Director of Photography.  This comes in handy because I not only can capture what I envision, but logistically it helps when shoots happen on a moments notice and I have less crew to call.  The film was shot on a combination of Sony EX3, Canon 5D, and Go Pro.  The EX3 is a great verite cam and easy to work with in run-and-gun scenarios.  I used a combination of 5D and Go Pro for the underwater work because it left the most room for creativity in getting varied shots close to Diana and keeping us nimble to get nice tracking shots.  We also used 5D for interviews and beauty b-roll to be peppered throughout the movie. I love the shallow-depth you can achieve with the 5D.
What do you want audiences to take from the film?
What I love about this woman and this story is that they both, inevitably, get people talking about relatable and universal human experiences: success, failure, dreams, disappointments, hope, grief, commitment, and obsession. Life is a paradox in so many ways, and we see it everywhere:  In our own lives and in others. In nature even. I would like people to be thinking about their own mortality, what really is most important to them, to how they spend their precious time, and what they would be willing to give to achieve their dreams. I would hope that people would be inspired by the film to live their dreams and accomplish their own personal goals and not give up.
How important do you think the critical/media response is to film these days, be it a large production, independent film or festival title?
It depends on your audience and what you want to achieve with the film.  I have really enjoyed some small films that weren’t lucky enough to enjoy the critical and media response that they deserved. Fortunately there are more and more distribution opportunities for independent filmmakers via the internet. But critical and media response still plays a necessary function of building the esteem of films that enjoy long success and wide audiences. 
After the film screens at South By Southwest, what is the future release plan for the movie? Where would you like it to go?
This film really plays well for the big screen.  I would love to see this film have a theatrical and  broadcast release followed by internet, VOD, and educational distribution. 
What would you say or do to someone who is talking or texting during a screening of your film?
If your talking, let’s hope you’re crying or laughing or saying “Holy Shit” to the person next to you.  And if your hands are on your phone, you’d best be on Facebook or Twitter sharing a  #MustSeeFilm @SXSW #TheOtherShore update with your posse. 
There are a lot of up and coming filmmakers both at SxSW and reading our site. I was curious if you had any advice to aspiring filmmakers?
This sounds cliché, but stick with it.  You will get there.  It is a long and tiring road.  But the journey is so much fun and all the sweat, blood, and debt will be worth it once you see it on the big screen. 
And finally, what is the single, greatest movie that you have seen at a film festival?
A stunning documentary I saw at AFI Fest called “Buddha’s Lost Children”.  The film is about an inspiring Thai Buddhist monk and tattooed ex-boxer Khru Bah, who goes deep into the jungles of the Golden Triangle in Northern Thailand to rescue abandoned children and teaches then to pray, farm, and kick box.  There are some really standout moments in this film. 

This is one of the many films screening at the 2013 SXSW in Austin, Texas between March 8-16. For more information on the film’s screening, point your browser to

Jason Whyte,
Twitter: @jasonwhyte Facebook: jasonwhyte

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originally posted: 03/06/13 18:49:06
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