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Watch 'Free Swim' - Documentary on the Paradox of Coastal People Not Knowing How to Swim

by Tambay A. Obenson
July 14, 2014 6:52 PM
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Free Swim

Titled "Free Swim," the award winning verite style documentary isn't solely interested in tackling the seemingly age-old myth that black people can't swim, but instead it zooms into the island of Eleuthera in the Bahamas, and follows a group of local kids who, with fresh memories of a friend who drowned, as well as the conflicts of growing tourism, overcome their fears, and gain the confidence to fully reconnect with their environment, by learning how to swim in open waters.

For these kids, it’s not just about learning how to float, but also gaining new awareness, as well as necessary skills that could be of significance in the future.

Unpacking the paradox of a coastal people not knowing how to swim, the film was directed by Jennifer Galvin. She shares her motivations for making the film immediately below:

  • "Free Swim" grew out of personal adventures and public health work with coastal people around the world. I became aware of a paradox: many people, young and old, who live surrounded by water, do not know how to swim. Having grown up in the U.S. on Long Island, N.Y., I was aware of the questions about minorities and the swimming gap and had wondered why some kids in my neighborhood didn’t know how to swim. Digging through the public health literature it was astonishing to learn that drowning is the second leading cause of accidental death for children globally. Looking closer, in the U.S. about 60% of ethnically diverse children are unable to swim and African-American children drown at three times the rate of Caucasian children. As a doctor with a degree in public health and environmental science, specializing in water and health, the more I learned about the struggling efforts to break this cycle, the more I wanted to give this topic a voice, especially regarding islanders who rely on the ocean directly, every day.

Read the rest here, and then watch the international film festival-played, multiple award-winning 50-minute documentary below:

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  • Shaun | July 23, 2014 7:54 AMReply

    Drowning is a pandemic....The film helps raise water safety awareness! Great Film!

  • Terri Francis | July 17, 2014 7:58 PMReply

    This film is in an important discussion with Stephanie Black's Life and Debt and Esther Figueroa's Jamaica For Sale about land (or the sea) and citizenship--or personhood because pleasure and access to the sea relative to tourists seems like part of this. Both of those films address tourists and citizens and the politics of the land. But unlike those this one really reminds me of those well-meaning condescending social/race problem films of the late 1940s and 1950s where the problem lies in the Negro's psychology and we're all the same so anybody can make it happen just do it. People's relationship to the sea is political and historical and it had to be invented--it's a function of tourism, the industry that replaced sugar. If those who live by and from the sea view it as a monster they must know their rationale. People who live by the sea know that it is not just beach; they're around when it's not all pretty and calm-looking. Learning to swim is an important intervention still. I don't disagree with the person in the film who discussed psychologies of scarcity. But access and pleasure and skill in the water is not just up to the individual like any other fear to conquer. And these days it depends on whether you are a city person or living in the rural areas and what type of school you went to. Lovely to see kids swimming though.

  • Cindy House | July 15, 2014 5:10 PMReply

    This is a beautiful film- funny, sad, important. I saw it 4 years ago and find myself still thinking about it and still talking about it years later. An amazing piece of work.

  • Gustavius Smith | July 15, 2014 11:19 AMReply

    One of the best Caribbean docs of all time.

  • Karen Murchie | July 15, 2014 10:49 AMReply

    This documentary is superbly done and captures an important story worth sharing. Because of Jennifer's connection to the people of Eleuthera, and their natural warmth, individuals freely offer up insight as to why many coastal folks don't know how to swim, and how this should change. Bravo and congratulations on the continued success of this documentary!

  • Shirley | July 15, 2014 8:09 AMReply

    Great idea for a doc. I'm always debating with friends about this paradox - island people who don't know how to swim. I think it's something imbued in our own mythology.

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