This is the first in the MVFF40 series MEET THE FILMMAKER, in which MVFF sits down with filmmakers for an exclusive take on their work.

Kate Webber first heard about Kim Chambers through a swimming enthusiast. “Someone told me, there’s this former ballerina with not a lot of experience who’s doing all these awesome swims,” she recalled. “I said, this sounds incredible.”

What resulted was a two-year journey to document Chambers’ story, including her triumph as the first woman to complete the 30-mile journey from the Farallon Islands to the Golden Gate Bridge – and the feature documentary, Kim Swims, is set to premiere at MVFF40 next week.

Kim Chambers, who hails from New Zealand but has resided in the Bay Area for over a decade, turned to endurance swimming after a traumatic accident that left her just 30 minutes from having her leg amputated. After two years of physical therapy she began outdoor swimming and quickly made strides, despite having no previous experience with the sport.

Webber herself routinely swims in the San Francisco Bay, sometimes for up to two hours at a stretch, and has swum from Point Bonita to Tiburon, and even completed a round-trip to Alcatraz. “I don’t know if I’ll do anything longer, like what Kim swam,” Webber said. “My marathon swim was making this film.”

Kim Swims is Webber’s directorial debut, and her first ever foray into filmmaking. A still photographer by profession, about three years ago Webber felt the pull of filmmaking. “I’d been sharing stories with my camera for over 12 years,” she said. “Life is short and you turn around and say, oh! There’s more I want to be doing and saying.”

Transitioning from still photography meant bringing on a team, so Webber called up cinematographer David Orr who jumped aboard. (Chambers had already agreed to the project before anyone else was brought on.)

“There were lots of steep learning curves,” Webber recalled. “We were like the little engine that could.”

One challenge, a little unusual perhaps, was that due to her background as a competitive swimmer, Webber was so accustomed to open-water swimming that Orr would often have to remind her that elements of the film – such as swimming with seals or near the Golden Gate Bridge – weren’t commonplace. “It was a challenge to get away from what I thought was normal,” Webber said. “How do we make [open water swimming] so it’s not so normalized that it’s not recognizing the feat, but also not dramatizing it so much that it alienates viewers?”

Given its subject matter, Kim Swims can’t help but be dramatic – the film documents an incredible 17-hour swim, replete with the threat of sharks, jellyfish and bone-chilling water. The week before her swim, Chambers’ friend and fellow swimmer attempted the same course but was pulled out as a Great White shark began circling him.

And then, it was Chambers’ turn. Webber and Chambers weren’t too worried about the sharks – their greatest numbers are seen in September and October, a period called “Sharktober” – and Chambers was swimming in early August.

“I was in my own zone,” Webber recalls of the process of shooting Chambers’ swim. “I was on B-cam and Dave was on A-cam, and we were focused on getting what we needed. We were in the flow.”

While this October will be Webber’s first time at the Festival, Chambers has attended several times before.

“I’m excited to share more about what the hell open-water swimming is,” Webber said. “But I think the film also points to an experience most of us have, at least once in our lives. It’s about seeing an obstacle and overcoming it. I want the audience to take away that whether you’re male, female, young or old, it’s never too late to look inside and ask yourself, what am I scared of in my life, and to challenge that.”

While open-water swimming in the San Francisco Bay may seem like a hobby few of us could take up, Webber notes that now, more than ever, is the time to support female creators and athletes. “This is a timely [moment] where we can support female filmmakers and athletes, and females in the outdoors. To have Kim be our hero touches also on gender equity in filmmaking.”

Director Kate Webber and subject Kim Chambers will attend the World Premiere of Kim Swims at the 40th Mill Valley Film Festival on Saturday, October 7 at 1:00pm at the Sequoia Theater in Mill Valley. They will remain after the film to participate in a Q&A with Festival Programmers and the audience. For more screenings of the film, please see the film page, available by clicking on the film still above.