By William Engel
Jeremie Battaglia’s aim is to shine the spotlight of the “everyday heroes” of the world, or the people who accomplish incredible feats that go unrecognized by the public. One of his most recent films, “Perfect”, is a documentary about one of the most unappreciated and underrated sports in the world – synchronized swimming – and the athleticism and artistry involved in it.
Recently, I sat down with this filmmaker and asked him a few questions about his body of work.
WILLIAM ENGEL: On your website, you describe yourself as “an admirer of everyday heroes”. Can you explain to me what that means?
JEREMIE BATTAGLIA: For me, it’s a big part of documentary filmmaking. It’s about ordinary people doing extraordinary things. And they’re not doing these things to be famous; they’re just doing it for the beauty of it.
ENGEL: Regarding your documentary “Perfect”, how did you first get involved with the sport of synchronized swimming? What inspired you to start making this documentary?
BATTAGLIA: I didn’t have any contact with the sport beforehand. I basically started from zero. A close friend of mine, she started working for the Canadian national team, and she told me about her new job and how she admired the girls on the team.
This was news to me, because I didn’t know anything about this sport. When she told me about all the training, the difficulty of what they’re doing, and all the competition, I was really surprised. So I started watching videos, and going to the pool just to watch their training. That’s how everything started.
ENGEL: Your film mentions that it’s common for synchro swimmers to sustain injuries over the course of their careers – broken bones, concussions. How does that happen? What are some of the main hazards of synchro?
BATTAGLIA: It’s because synchro is really about “pretending”. They have to make it look easy. That’s why they’re always smiling throughout the competition. But, in fact, under the water, it’s really dangerous, because they have to swim in a really close pattern. It looks more impressive, but it’s also more dangerous, because if one swimmer is just a little bit off to the left or the right, she can get kicked in the face or the abdomen, which can result in a pretty big injury.
ENGEL: In the film, some of the girls mention trying to change the judging system so that it’s less subjective. Has there been any progress made in that department since you finished the film?
BATTAGLIA: No. In fact, it seems to be getting worse. See, they’re looking to change the name of the sport to “artistic swimming”, thus placing more emphasis on the artistic nature of the sport. The real problem here is the inherent subjectivity of art, so this won’t solve the problem at all. But maybe in a few years, things will start moving in the right direction.
ENGEL: Did you get any feedback from the Montreal team after the film was released? How did they feel about the way they were portrayed?
BATTAGLIA: They saw the film when it was done; we made a special screening just for them. They loved the film. They thought it was honest, and true to they’ve been through during their careers. It really captured the reality of the sport, and for them, that was really important.
The big problem with synchro is that a lot of people don’t think it’s a “real” sport. But the fact is that it’s one of the most difficult sports out there. These girls are some of the best athletes in the world, but they’re not getting the praise that they should get.
ENGEL: On that note, do you think that this film will help synchro be taken more seriously as a sport?
BATTAGLIA: Yes; that’s the main idea during the film. For me, growing to respect synchro was a process, and doing the film was a way to help the spectator go through the same process as I did. I’ve heard a lot of men tell me that, for them, the film was a revelation, because they thought that [synchro] wasn’t a real sport. After seeing the film, they became aware of the preconceived notions and stereotypes they hold because of the media and the internet. It changed the way they see the sport?
ENGEL: Do you have any other projects in the works?
BATTAGLIA: Yes, I’m currently working on two different projects. First, a short film, and second, a documentary feature film about radicalization of the youth in the south of France.
ENGEL: Radicalization? So are they left-wing or right-wing extremists?
BATTAGLIA: Neither; they’re religious extremists.
ENGEL: Have you decided on a title for that film?
BATTAGLIA: No, not yet. I’m going to start filming in June. [TAOM]