by Noma Faingold
Moviegoers sit in the darkness of a theater not knowing what to expect. However, the
only risk is maybe they will not care for the film. They can see the “exit” signs from their
Kim Chambers enters the darkness of the ocean in the dead of night, wearing just a
swimsuit, cap and goggles, unprotected from the punishing, choppy, cold water. She may
be torn apart in a matter of seconds by sharks. It’s a given that she will be stung by
dozens, if not hundreds, of jellyfish. No matter how prepared, fit and seasoned she is, her
body may not be able to survive the elements. Yet she persists. One stroke at a time.
The New Zealand native and current San Francisco resident is one of the top three
female open water marathon swimmers in the world and the subject of a suspenseful
new documentary, “Kim Swims,” which is getting its world premiere at the 40th annual
Mill Valley Film Festival from Oct. 5-15.
“Kim Swims,” an inspirational story by first-time director Kate Webber, is more about the
personal challenge and joy of the journey, rather than the end-all and be-all of the finish.
Connecticut-born Webber is from a family of swimmers, so she was naturally drawn to
her subject. The accomplished still photographer, who lives in the Richmond District,
wanted to take her artistic eye and storytelling style to the next level.
The open water enthusiast heard about Chambers as a member of San Francisco’s
Dolphin Club (based at Aquatic Park).
The film centers on Chambers’ attempt to become the first woman to swim 30
miles from the mysterious Farallon Islands (known as the Devil’s Teeth) to the Golden
Gate Bridge. Many consider it the toughest marathon swim in the world because sharks
are known to surround the wildlife preserve, and the water is super cold and has a
Only four men have completed the swim.
Open water marathon swimming is arguably the most difficult extreme sport in the
world. Chambers is one of the few women to tackle the Oceans 7 Challenge, which took
her all over the globe. But, one of the swims almost killed her.
“It was worth it,” she says in the film. “I would do it again.”
While few can relate to what an extraordinary athlete Chambers is, the themes of “Kim
Swims” are relatable. A freak accident left the former dancer with almost no chance of
walking again. But, she knew differently and spent two years rehabbing her leg. She
could walk, but not run, so out of frustration she started swimming in a pool.
After someone suggested she try swimming in the Bay, she got in, and that was it.
“I loved it,” she says in the film. “Everything ignited in me. It’s the great unknown. That
experience with nature, it just fed my soul.”
Webber approached Chambers two years ago about telling her story. Webber wanted to
challenge herself, entering the unknown artistically.
“Life is short,” says Webber. “There was more growing I wanted to do.”
Chambers had an expert crew she trusted with her life in a boat alongside her while she
swam from evening to the next day. Webber ’s tight-knit film crew was in the boat,
including cinematographer David Orr.
Right before the swim, Chambers talked calmly, yet seriously to her crew. She took off
her watch and told them that she did not want to know how many hours would pass, or
how many miles there was to go. It was a total surrender to nature and fate, as she
describes in the film.
Webber wanted to capture Chambers’ “personal quest,” but she also had her own.
“I wanted to bring my storytelling to a larger audience,” Webber said. “My hope is that
the film will inspire people to push past fear. For me, doing this film is like jumping into
the Farallones at night.”
“Kim Swims” has its world premiere at the 40th annual Mill Valley Film Festival,
Oct. 7, 1 p.m., Sequoia 2 (only rush seats available). A second screening is on
Oct . 13, 10 a.m. , Rafael Theatre. Tickets cost $15, or $13.50 for seniors and students.
For more information, go to the website at http://www.mvff.com.