Basketball has “Hoop Dreams.” Football has “Undefeated.” Boxing has “When We Were Kings.” Even surfing and skateboarding earned their documentary due with “The Endless Summer” and “Dogtown and Z-Boys,” respectively.
But where’s competitive swimming’s cinematic equivalent?
Brian Tremml hopes to fill the void with “The Water is My Sky,” a feature-length documentary that will tap into the mind-sets of elite swimmers. It’s a project of passion for Tremml, who has a film degree from the University of Iowa, where he was a varsity swimmer.
Tremml, who is an assistant swim coach of the Iowa Flyers Swim Club, has spent the past 18 months attending national tournaments to capture great moments in the sport. He's also interviewed champions such as three-time Olympic medalist Rowdy Gaines. The film has one central question at its core: “Who are the types of people who would train for a full year for one race and very little fame?”
Though the film is far from finished, an online teaser offers an early glimpse into the movie’s core theme — namely, swimming is cruel. “Cruel?” says Gaines in the promo. “Yeah … our sport is not for the faint of heart.”
That’s the kind of drama that makes for a good documentary. The trailer has been widely shared among swim fans online, helping generate a bit of a buzz. But will Tremml’s debut find an audience outside the elite swimming community? The Iowa City resident has good reason to think so.
“Every four years, swimming is the most popular Summer Olympics sport, based on television ratings, so there’s interest there,” said Tremml, 24.
But then the sport quietly disappears. It’s what happens between those pursuits of Olympic glory that’s of most interest to the filmmaker.
“There’s no appreciation for that journey and struggle that professional swimmers go through,” he said, noting that the media isn’t giving swimming its due. He points to the World Aquatics Championships as the kind of high-caliber event that gets scant coverage in the U.S.
“It embeds this idea into young swimmers that it’s Olympics or bust,” added Tremml. “I think there are opportunities to highlight what’s great about this sport more than once every four years.”
So far he’s spent about $10,000 on the project, which has received the blessing of many of his Olympic idols and a prominent sports writer. A line from P.H. Mullen’s book Gold in the Water, which chronicles Tom Wilkens and Kurt Grote’s grueling training for the 2000 Summer Olympics in Australia, inspired the film’s working title.
But Tremml will need more than an approving nod from swimming’s finest. He needs cash. Recently he launched a Kickstarter campaign with the goal of raising $50,000 to complete the project.
“I think the community, as a whole, is excited to see our sport getting some coverage it hasn’t seen before,” Tremml said.
UPDATE: On Tuesday, May 7, Tremml reached his fundraising goal just two days before Kickstarter's strict all-or-nothing deadline.