By Mike Gustafson//Correspondent
For years – decades even – the sport of swimming has never had a great “swimming movie.” It’s flummoxed me. We’ve had to deal with and watch “swimming movies” where featured swimmers are actually non-swimming actors who have taken no more than five YMCA swimming lessons, where depicted swim times are strange, weird times like “1:17” (just what event would that be?), where the sport seems like Hollywood’s depiction of competitive swimming rather than the essence of the beautiful thing itself.
But there’s a new documentary on the horizon that could depict the sport in its truest form, with dedicated filmmakers producing the film and an honest storyline. “Touch The Wall” is a documentary following the journeys of Missy Franklin and Kara Lynn Joyce in the build-up to the 2012 Olympics. You can check out the trailer here.
“Over the last two years we’ve shot over 400 hours of Missy, her coach Todd, and her teammate Kara,” the filmmakers say on the film’s trailer. “We were there for the early morning practices, for the many, many swim meets they attended. We were there in Omaha when Kara made the Olympic team again, and Missy qualifying for a record seven events.”
The film has potential. There is behind-the-scenes footage of London, of hotel rooms and outside pool venues, of hugs, tears, and confessionals, of early morning practices, of trying on dresses, etc.. The underwater imagery is beautiful. The audio is good. The interviews seem honest. There are interesting, fascinating scenes, like the one of Missy holding her Olympic bronze medal, and you can hear her talking with sincerity about her London accomplishments:
“This means that missing all of those sleepovers was worth it,” Missy says to the camera, holding her bronze. “To wake up and go to early morning practice.”
The filmmakers, Grant Barbeito and Christo Brock, started a campaign to raise money for editing and post-production costs. They claim to need about $110,000 in additional funding to hire editors and assistant editors. These editors will log through the 400 hours of footage and create a storyline, graphics, mix sound, and all the other post-production needs a 90-minute film must go through. The fundraising number seems pretty expensive, but when you consider many high-production value documentaries have seven-figure budgets, in the grand scheme of things, it’s not that much to produce what could be a great swimming documentary.
Even more amazing is that both Missy and Kara Lynn eventually qualified for the Olympics. Remember that when these filmmakers began following this duo, they never knew how these athletes’ destinations would turn out. Sometimes, when you begin to follow a subject years before the Olympics, things can happen. Burn-out. Injury. Fatigue. Of course, should one of them not have qualified, or something happened along the way, that makes for an interesting storyline, too (See: “Hoop Dreams”). But it’s remarkable that both featured swimmers in this documentary achieved the ultimate pinnacle of the sport, and these filmmakers were there to capture all the behind-the-scenes nuances, family reactions, and build-up storylines.
In short: I want to see this film. Right now, I’m not sure if the fundraiser will reach that $110,000 goal. They have, at the time of this writing, forty more days to fundraise the money. They’ve raised around $20,000. The catch? If they don’t reach the monetary goal, they don’t get any of the money they’ve already raised. On KickStarter, it’s an all-or-nothing approach. Does this mean that if they don’t achieve this fundraising goal, we won’t be able to see an edited version of the film? I hope not. I’ll edit the film myself if I have to.
Ultimately -- and my hope would be – for younger swimmers and coaches, this film could be an invaluable inspiration tool. It could allow age groupers to see some of those early morning practices, personal thoughts, feelings, reactions, and many facets of a journey to the Olympics. Swimming needs a film like that. Not something fictional. Not another Hollywood story with non-swimmer actors posing as elite-level swimmers. But a real documentary involving ambassadors of the sport.
In this post-Olympic year, we’re seeing more swimmers in more multi-media platforms than ever before. Ryan Lochte has a reality show on E! Michael Phelps is featured on a golf reality program. A group of collegiate filmmakers are producing a mockumentary about a club swim program. And Missy Franklin and Kara Lynn Joyce could be in a documentary. Whatever happens going forward, with the lower overall cost of production and more interest in swimming, I hope we’ll see more of these types of endeavors in the future.
But I hope this film is one that gets produced. “Touch The Wall” has the potential to be great. The footage is shot. The interviews are conducted. Like any swim race, it’s down to those last five meters in fundraising. I hope they’ll get there.
Mike Gustafson is a freelance writer for USA Swimming and Splash Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @MikeLGustafson.