Swim Team screens on Sunday at 2 p.m. at Hanesbrands Theatre and on April 3 at 1:30 p.m. at Aperture 2.
The feature-length documentary Swim Team begins with an underwater shot of a young man swimming laps.
“I’m not like other teenagers,” he narrates over his own submerged movement. “I’m autistic. When I’m swimming, I feel normal. It feels amazing.”
Swim Team tells the story of the inaugural season of the Jersey Hammerheads, a team comprised of children and teens diagnosed on the autism spectrum.
Each of the members on the team has a different sensory issue regarding touch and sound, unique challenges that demand patience from their instructors and families.
The film follows the experiences of the swimmers and the people in their lives, out of the pool as often as in it. Individually and as a collective, they struggle to find the fundraising, education and services — speech therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy — that the kids need.
When the swimmers practice or race in the pool, underwater shots often glide the viewer along at a matching pace. When on dry land, interviews with family members and interactions between families and their autistic children shape the documentary.
Despite the difficulties they face, the Hammerheads won a total of 85 gold medals in their debut season, and six members went on to compete on YMCA, high school and elite swim teams. Beyond such accomplishments, swimming has helped those on the Hammerheads move toward a more independent future.
— Joel Sronce