‘Soul Surfer’ is first FilmDistrict pickup

Carrie Underwood, Dennis Quaid to topline drama

Peter Schlessel and Bob Berney’s newly formed FilmDistrict has announced its first film: Bethany Hamilton biopic “Soul Surfer,” which it will release in partnership with TriStar Pictures next spring.

FilmDistrict will fully market the film, directed by Sean McNamara and toplining AnnaSophia Robb as Hamilton. Dennis Quaid, Helen Hunt and Carrie Underwood also star.

Based on the story of surfing fanatic Hamilton, who lost her arm in a shark attack and then overcame the odds to once again become a surfing champion, the pic opens nationwide April 15.

FilmDistrict opened its doors in September. Execs said it wouldn’t always distribute its films, but instead partner with TriStar and other Sony labels.

Schlessel has strong ties to “Soul Surfer,” which he helped acquire when he headed Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions. (Schlessel left that gig to become prexy of GK Films and launch FilmDistrict.)

McNamara directed from an adapted script he wrote with Michael Berk, Douglas Schwartz and Deborah Schwartz. Additional writing was done by Ron Bass, Jen Smolka and Kara Holden.

The film is based on Hamilton’s Hamilton’s memoir “Soul Surfer: A True Story of Faith, Family and Fighting to Get Back on the Board.”

Berney and Schlessel said “Soul Surfer” is a perfect title for FilmDistrict, which wants to put out commercially-oriented fare. In this case, FilmDistrict is timing the film’s release to spring break.

“This is an upbeat, positive movie. I think the mood in this country is such that it is in the mood for uplifting films,” Berney said.

Pic also stars Lorraine Nicholson, Kevin Sorbo and Jeremy Sumpter.

Enticing Entertainment and Island Film Group financed the film, which was produced by Mandalay Vision, Brookwell McNamara Entertainment and Life’s a Beach Entertainment.

Sony Worldwide picked up North American and substantial international rights before the film went into production.

“My family and I are honored to be the subject of such an amazing film,” Hamilton said in a statement. “My hope that the story continues to inspire poeple around the world to overcome the challenges that face them.”

Producers are David Zelon, Douglas Schwartz, David Brookwell, McNamara and Roy “Dutch” Hofstetter. David Tice and Dominic Ianno exec produced.

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