Filmmaker Margarita Jimeno has been asked how she became a US citizen so frequently that she decided to make a movie about it…sort of. Her short film, “Swimming Away,” offers a creative interpretation of citizenship based on her own, totally made-up response to the persistent query. “Sometimes illuminated truths are far more intense, and for sure far more interesting,” she explains. “So my fabricated answer became: ‘I won a swimming competition, and the prize was a US citizenship.’” The resulting movie, currently in pre-production, will revolve around three characters who are embroiled in a fierce swimming competition for the grand prize of citizenship. Definitely not your typical documentary!
For more on Margarita’s movie, personal story, and general inspirations (including polar bear poop) check out our Q&A with her below. Support the project here.
A swimming competition with a prize of citizenship is an interesting way to approach the issues of identity and immigration. How did this story evolve?
One day my friend and collaborator Anna Bernstrom, was talking about writing a film about the hardships of getting a green card, the set up was the typical green card marriage arrangement story. So I said: wait a minute why don’t you write about getting a citizenship? And I told her about my fabricated truth when I am asked how did I become a US citizen, and how I am always amused by the reaction of people when I tell them that I actually won it in a swimming competition. I also like to observe how some people get all excited to find out the details. So very quickly I had the Swimming Away story, and Anna kept adding details, and soon we agreed we must write this down, and so the rest is underwater history. Sanna Lund, production designer, was also at that gathering, and jumped in saying she wanted to work on the film for sure. So our film has been a very spontaneous and organic collaboration of immigrants, who understand and relate to the subject matter. I wanted to get some feelings, and ideas across about this theme, For years I have been using the line: “I won my citizenship in a Swimming competition” — so now I can point people to see the film and understand how I won it.
I love the inspirations you’ve listed (“tsunami swimming”/”polar bear poop”) — tell me a bit more about them! How do you imagine they will aesthetically inform your final film? Any other choice inspirations?
Well is hard sometimes to eloquently explain how I get inspired, a lot of my ideas literally come in as if the cinema gods send me an email and it just happens to be an “eggzelent” idea. There is also a lot of serendipity in how I work, and of course some thought.
In this case the image of that polar bear’s poop was still fresh in my mind, I had just watched it in youtube, which by the way is quite an amazing sketch book for inspiration. I don’t want to give away the climax of Swimming Away, but let’s just say that the swimming finals get a little chaotic underwater. This week I found some ritualistic photos by Phyllis Galembo to use in the wardrobe and feeling of one of the main characters.
What do you hope that people will ultimately take away from your film?
I hope my audience will connect with the feelings and ideas portrayed in the film in their own particular way. I left enough space and mystery in the script so that each person can fill in the blanks as they wish. I am not into making didactic films, in cinema I’m mostly interested in experiencing feelings and ideas that can bring out very important questions, yet the answers are coming from the viewer and not from the filmmaker… although sometimes it’s unavoidable to get some answers. It’s all very contradictory, I guess it’s more about maintaining a balance between the two.
How has your use of Kickstarter been so far? Any advice for other potential creators out there?
Kickstarter has changed the way I was looking at making films. I didn’t think it would be so effective, and in our case we made our goal in two weeks of four, so that was really exciting. It is also great to see people who relate to the film. I got emails from people in Finland and Germany who are deeply interested and connected to the film. It is very encouraging to see that there is an audience out there for the kind of films I want to make. And that you can connect with the audience before making the film is also very interesting.
For others out there just do it! Join Kickstarter share your film with the world.
What is your story of becoming a US citizen?
When I first came to the US I very quickly got introduced to the advantages of swimming…by the time I arrived in NYC, almost 13 years ago, I started swimming and training until one day I won the swimming citizenship competition.
This graffiti from May ‘68 in Paris has become our production mantra:
“Soyez réalistes, demandez l’impossible.
Be realistic, ask for the impossible.”