The use of water has bountiful representations in contemporary cinema, existing as a place for exploration of the subconscious and personal introspection. Director Mari Walker utilises a personal memory that happened in a swimming pool when she was younger which marked a formative milestone of her identity. DN spoke with Walker about bringing something so personal to the screen, and how sharing her experiences with her actors allowed them to become better informed about their characters and this intimate narrative.
Where did the idea for Swim begin?
Swim is based off my own life experiences. When I was a teenager, I stole my Mom’s swimsuit and went for a secret midnight swim. Years later, after transitioning, I was traveling up to Washington from California and was stuck in a particularly miserable hotel room where the air conditioning was broken. Waking up in the middle of the night drenched in sweat I looked out onto the hotel pool with envy. I suddenly realised I hadn’t gone swimming since transitioning, something I used to love doing when I was young.
The memory of stealing my Mom’s swimsuit came flooding back to me. Having wanted to direct a narrative short for some time, I thought the story of Swim could become a slice of life short film.
It’s so important to have people of any minorities be involved with telling stories about themselves.
What was the process of working with Gavin Fink to develop Nicky as a fully developed character?
Gavin Fink is a tremendous actor. We knew as soon as he sent in his self-tape that he was able to play the role. One of my biggest complaints about many mainstream trans narratives is that often the moment when a trans character tries on a piece of feminine clothing, it’s performed almost as something sexual. Gavin and I worked together to have the first time Nicky look at herself in the mirror as seeing herself as complete. That wearing the clothes you desire to wear is about feeling comfortable – gender, not sexuality.
While rehearsing, the four principal actors and I spent time talking about my experiences being trans as a teenager – the stories and emotions I spoke about helped them all understand the trans experience better and informed aspects of their performance. This is why it’s so important to have people of any minorities be involved with telling stories about themselves.
Tell me about the shooting process, how long did you shoot for and whereabouts?
We shot for two days at my cousin’s house – a location which would have been much too cost prohibitive if she hadn’t let us film there! We did the day shots the first day and filmed at night on the second. Jordan T. Parrott and I chose to shoot with anamorphic lenses to help emphasize that something as simple as swimming can give someone such freedom. Though we filmed in Los Angeles, it was still very cold at night, particularly for Gavin, who was stuck in the pool for most of the evening.
With a story based on such a personal memory, how does it feel to present it to audiences? What do you hope they take away from it?
Vanishing Angle, one of the production companies who worked on the film, is very supportive of the review process during the scriptwriting and post-production phases. Peer review, particularly by people who you trust creatively, is an essential step in the post process. I think I felt most vulnerable showing Swim to this group. Through those screenings, I became more confident in showing it to larger audiences.
I wanted to tell a story that displayed hope.
I hope audiences take away a positive message about Nicky’s transition at the end of the film, that she was able to find the freedom she desired to achieve in everyday life. Though many stories about the LGBTQIA community end in tragedy, I wanted to tell a story that displayed hope; something that is necessary to survive being LGBTQIA in the world.
Water, and the swimming pool in particular, plays such a significant role in the film, what does it represent to you?
The night I went swimming was one of the few moments in my childhood where I felt truly free. Freedom comes in many shapes and sizes but for me, swimming that summer night came to represent what could be, if I just took a leap of faith.
And, finally, what are you working on currently?
I’m currently in preproduction for my first narrative feature, See You Then, which we’re planning on shooting this year. The synopsis: Kris and Naomi haven’t seen each other in 15 years and decide to meet in Claremont where they both attended college together. Over the course of one night memories are shared, unexpected truths are unearthed, and shocking secrets laid bare.
Swim is one of the many great projects shared with the Directors Notes Programmers through our submissions process. If you’d like to join them submit your film.