Production grants from New York Women in Film and the Independent Filmmaker’s Project
Theatrical release funding by Easterseals and the Aetna Foundation
Director Lara Stolman
Producer Shanna Belott
I loved this film. Swim Team could lift your spirits on any day. It captures the story of 17 boys on the autism spectrum who form the Hammerheads, a competitive swimming team. The boys are almost all Latino or Asian. Three boys, Mikey, Robert, and Kelvin, are featured and are followed both at home and in the pool. Swim Team was shot in Perth Amboy, New Jersey, a town that fortunately has a very nice pool and a caring community. A father, Mike McQuay, Sr, with a background in athletics and a devoted mother, Maria McQuay, started the program to help their son, Mikey. Shot over two years, the film documents what seems at first to be an almost impossible task of creating a competitive swim team.
Swim Team is done with verve, imagination, exciting music and lots and lots of stunning shots and really captures the special joy of swimming. The photography was by Laela Kilbourn and the music includes original scores by Mark Suozzo. The underwater shots of the boys swimming and signaling thumbs up that closes the film will remain with me for a long time. It has won a lot of documentary awards and deserves every one of them.
It is wonderful that Director Lara Stolman was looking for a place where her kids could learn to swim and discovered the Hammerhead team. She has created a tribute to love of all sorts, to discipline and generosity of the kind that makes it possible for young boys to grow up by meeting an extraordinary challenge. It is also a tribute to individuality and diversity. The issues of each child’s disabilities whether speech problems, tics, poor physical coordination, shyness are all squarely faced. But each boy is cherished and accepted. The expectations are high. The shouted instruction “Kick!” rings in my ears. Non-swimmers or beginners to start, the transformations are wonderful. Certainly these children who would be at special risk of drowning in a pool, take to swimming with pride and serious effort. They learn discipline and to work as a team. The families fund raise to provide professional gear to each team member. The film makes clear both the struggle and the steps that matter in achieving success.
Families gain when a child achieves, but for these families, success is particularly sweet and encouraging.
Let’s be honest. Many children with even modest difficulties are sidelined if not actually excluded from school or community activities. But this film shows that taking each child where they are and working constantly and diligently with them can bring amazing development. Their hard won self-esteem is evident. They compete in local, state and national competitions, not only in Special Olympics but also in Olympic-level competitions. The gains they make from swimming carry over into school and preparation for eventual independent life. How many other unconventional approaches could be beneficial in teaching life’s lessons? Success is vital to continued achievement.
A lot of people helped to make this film, but major credit must be given to Lara Stolman and Shanna Belott. Equal credit must be given to the boys and their families who allowed the film to be made.
Contact David Magdael & Associatesfsanchez@tcdm-associages.com for information about this film, already showing in New York and Los Angeles.