Lights, camera, swim: Documentary of Ann Arbor women breaking English Channel record premieres Sunday
The film, a Michigan State University Today Production, follows the relay team as they train to make the 42-mile two-way swim to bring attention to and raise money for ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. It follows them as they practice swimming laps in local pools and make night swims in area lakes to prepare for the cold and dark waters of the English Channel.
But the film also documents the friendship and camaraderie that grew between the women, the friendly rivalry between MSU and U-M grads and, finally, the support the team gave one of its members who is diagnosed with breast cancer just weeks before the channel crossing.
The film, said Amanda Mercer, the MSU alumni who recruited the other five swimmers, “made me laugh and then made me cry. It’s good. Really good.”
While the film crew captured the channel swim, they also followed the team as it prepared. Four months before the swim, Mercer found out she had breast cancer. She never thought about abandoning the swim, despite a severe reaction to the chemotherapy. Just 10 days after her last chemotherapy, Mercer and her teammates were bound for England.
“There are a lot of great elements in this story,” said Anthony Siciliano, the film’s editor. “You can relate to the people in the story. There’s a lot of emotion.” The hardest part was winnowing the 40 to 50 hours of film footage down to about 30 minutes, he said.
As the trailer to the film opens, it spans the vast and rolling ocean where the women will swim. It documents them making the first, hard jump into the 60-degree channel water and it shows the women making smooth strokes through the night with light sticks fixed on their backs so the boat can follow them. And it captures the women cheering each other on from the boat.
“Seeing it brought back a flood of memories,” Mercer said. “And then all of a sudden I felt cold, the way it felt when we were on the boat.
A three-person film crew followed the swimmers to England in late July, documenting the push off from England. One of the filmmakers stayed with the boat for the 18 hours it followed the relay team while the other two raced through the Channel Tunnel, to catch the team as it touched France. The filmmakers then raced back to capture the moment the team reached Dover to break the world record.
The team wanted to bring attention to Ann Arbor Active Against ALS, a grass roots organization formed by friends and neighbors of U-M economics and Ford School of Public Policy Professor Bob Schoeni, who was diagnosed with ALS in 2008. While there is no cure for ALS, A2A3 has been successful in raising funds for research and encouraging the community to be a physically active in a way that’s impossible for victims of ALS.
The Channel swim has raised more than $100,000 of its $120,000 goal. Mercer said she expects proceeds from the film’s premier along with attention it will receive once it’s aired on the Big Ten Network will push them closer to their goal.
The film will be shown at 1 p.m. Sunday in the Blau Auditorium of the U-M Stephen Ross School of Business. The film will be followed by a question-and-answer session with the swimmers. To register, go to www.channelforals.org. An air date on the Big Ten Network has not been scheduled.
Watch the movie's trailer: