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Indie documentary The Ponds becomes an unexpected hit


- Patrick McLennan and Samuel Smith's film has reached far beyond its target audience and is spreading across the UK, with an international premiere set for 22 March in Brussels

Indie documentary The Ponds becomes an unexpected hit
The Ponds by Patrick McLennan and Samuel Smith

The Ponds [+see also:
film profile
, a feature-length documentary by co-directors Patrick McLennan and Samuel Smith, produced by Laser Guided Productions, was released by Dartmouth Films in the UK on 10 January 2019. The film spends a year with swimmers at Hampstead Heath, an ample green space in the heart of London with three ponds, where people have been swimming "since the times of Keats and Constable", as the film's website puts it.

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Since the first screenings at Everyman Hampstead, a local cinema near the heath, the success of the film has spread outside the area, packing out auditoria all over London, but also in other places in the country. It is currently at a total of 101 screenings, with 35 of them sold out. As of 5 March, the film has grossed €46,391 (£39,861) at the box office. 

“We just wanted to make a film that was coherent, that was going to do justice to the ponds and allow us to be able to go back there and swim happily,” McLennan told Cineuropa. “When we got it into the first three screens at Everyman Hampstead, and they sold out so quickly, we wondered whether it was just local, but we had a feeling that it was a little bit wider than that. Once we got it into cinemas outside NW3 and NW5 [local postcodes] around Hampstead Heath, we realised there was also a real appetite for it elsewhere.” 

Besides dipping into (cold) water, this observational documentary sees swimmers speaking about the importance of the place itself, many of them focusing on how the wild swimming experience has helped them to deal with the hardships of life. It starts in early spring and progresses through all four seasons. Filled with emotional, funny and heartwarming stories, it offers an insightful look at the place and its people. The interviews alternate with beautiful shots of the heath and the ponds, which are accompanied by some minimalistic music to suit the somewhat meditative mood of the film.

The apparent target audience of outdoor swimmers and people outside of that community alike have been queuing up to see the movie, some of them literally: the screening at the Dartmouth Park Film Club had a queue stretching around the block, and unfortunately there wasn’t enough room for everyone. McLennan says, “What we have also discovered is that because people love the swimmers telling such real stories about themselves, the tales appeal to people way beyond the outdoor swimming community. Like Sam said about the cold water, it’s like truth serum, and people are telling the truth about themselves."

The Ponds has international sales agent Aquatic Films on board, and the team hopes to secure international distribution. There’s been interest in the film from countries like the USA, Germany, Australia, France, Spain and Argentina.

The Ponds will be screening in Brussels on 22 March as part of a project called “Pool Is Cool”, which is lobbying for the re-introduction of open-air public swimming in the city, using London and the film as examples of how such facilities can be of benefit to the local community.

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