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Former Hawkeye swimmer develops first film

BY EMMA MCCLATCHEY | APRIL 24, 2014 5:00 AM

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EA Sports has yet to produce a swimming video game, but 2012 Olympic swimmer Connor Jaegar said the sport offers the same sense of satisfaction one might get from completing a tough level on Tiger Woods PGA Tour.

“You have a character, and as the skill set increases, you enjoy progressing,” said Jaegar, a three-time NCAA champion at the University of Michigan. “To have a time [in swimming] — to compare yourself to how you were a year ago — is a clear indicator you’re getting better, and that’s really rewarding.”

The same relentless desire for progress drives filmmakers Brian Tremml and Kiel Nowakowski as they develop their first full-length documentary about the world of competitive swimming.

Currently titled The Water Is My Sky, Tremml and Nowakowski seek to raise $50,000 before May 14 to fund the project.

Tremml conceived the idea for the documentary while he was still a film student at the University of Iowa and a member of the Hawkeye men’s swimming team. Inspired by his experience and Olympic bronze medalist Tom Wilkens’ autobiography Gold in the Water — from which the phrase “the water is my sky” was taken — Tremml began work on the film after graduating the UI in 2012.

“The entire swimming community can get behind this project simply because it’s never been done before,” he said.

The film will feature a variety of swimmers ranging from high-schoolers to current stars in the sport (including Jaegar), all the way up to legends such as Wilkens. No matter the age, Tremml said he considers swimmers to be the most humble and hardworking athletes.

“There are no egos in the sport. It’s all kind of done for the love of it,” Tremml said. “Everyone’s searching for that perfect race, and I don’t think anyone ever gets to the point where he’s like, ‘Well, that’s as good as it’s going to get.’ It’s the idea of chasing something that’s ultimately unobtainable but enjoying the chase.”

While the two filmmakers are old friends hailing from Holland, Mich., each lends a different perspective to The Water Is My Sky: Tremml understands the insider “language” of swimming, and Nowakowski takes the position of a non-swimmer curious about the lifestyle.

“It’s relatable to anybody seeking a dream,” said Nowakowski, a graduate of the University of Michigan, who moved from New York to Iowa City to work on the film. “We’ll show the inside world of swimming — the daily struggle and the daily grind that you might not see outside of the Olympics — and how these people dedicate their lives to something they’re not going to get a lot of fame for.”

The online fundraising period for The Water Is My Sky is in its second week, with 19 days to go. As of April 22, the film’s Kickstarter account had raised nearly $20,000, with 215 backers — but if the account doesn’t reach $50,000 by May 14, all contributions will go back to the donors.

Assuming the success of the Kickstarter campaign, Tremml said, “every penny” of the donations will go toward production costs in the next year and a half, hiring crew, renting equipment, traveling back and forth among Iowa, New Jersey, Michigan, and California, and, later, post-production licensing and music composition.

“It’s a critical stage,” said Tommy Haines, a local filmmaker and board member at FilmScene who is a producer for The Water Is My Sky. “I warned [Tremml] that making a documentary is exhausting, takes years, underpays, and absorbs your life, but he’s facing it head-on.”

Like a swimmer chasing a perfect race, Tremml said he and his crew plan to push their skills and sanity to the limit to produce a documentary worthy of gold-medal status.

“The fact that this is a film about something that was a huge part of my life … and all the enthusiasm from swimmers around the world, that’s what’s driving me right now,” Tremml said. “It means a lot to me to give something back to the sport that gave so much to me.”


To back Tremml and Nowakowski’s documentary, go to www.kickstarter.com and search for The Water Is My Sky. Any donor who commits $5 or more will see her or his name in the credits of the finished film, while donations over $45 earn a T-shirt, wristband, and digital copy of the documentary. Backers contributing more than $1,000 will be given supporting or associate producer status.

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