Chesapeake Film Festival’s Reel Gems: Five Questions for “Swimmers” Director Doug Sadler


Editor’s Note: When the Spy heard news that the Chesapeake Film Festival’s spring program, REEL GEMS, at the Oxford Community Center would be screening “Swimmers” directed by Oxford-raised Doug Sadler, we thought it was the perfect excuse to reach out to Doug to talk about this highly acclaimed film. Sadly, it turned out Doug was in New York City working on another project. So we have used our second best option and sent Doug five questions about “Swimmers.” 

The Spy: Of all the plots and stories you might have selected, why Swimmers?

Doug Sadler: The short answer is I don’t know. The longer answer is that it’s a mix of ingredients. My family discovered and explored the Eastern Shore by way of the water – we were living on a sailboat at the time- so I had both a love of life on the water and also a very direct introduction to the unique landscape that is the Chesapeake Bay. Through trips to Smith Island and all over the Bay by boat, I became more aware of the lifestyle and tradition of watermen and appreciated the beauty of workboats on the water at dawn, not to mention seafood itself. A lot of those things stuck with me as I went through college, film school in Los Angeles, etc. Like probably every filmmaker ever, I was interested in telling a story about growing up, about the loss of innocence and the shifts that happen in life.

The life-cycle of the Maryland Blue Crab – which in order to grow sheds its’ shell leaving it soft and vulnerable for a period of time – resonated with those themes. In the film, each character is going through a period of growth and vulnerability – a “soft shell” period if you will.. Telling it all through the eyes of a 12-year-old girl was both a nod to director Terrence Malick (Days of Heaven) and my way of getting closer to innocence and instinct and connection to nature. And then there’s the fact that the Greek name for Maryland Blue Crab translates as “beautiful swimmer” – which is also the inspiration for William Warner’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book “Beautiful Swimmers”… so from that whole stew of influences, the film was born.

Spy: Do you think Swimmers has special meaning for those of us who live on the Eastern Shore?

DS: I hope so. I think most people who live here have a special appreciation for the nature and lifestyle of the Eastern Shore. So, I hope seeing it on screen helps people appreciate both the beauty and vulnerability- and also get ready for summer crab feasts!

Spy: Was it hard to produce the film in Talbot County?

DS: While there were many, many challenges to producing the film, shooting in Talbot County wasn’t one of them. Although we did face a hurricane and housing crew here increased the cost, I don’t think it would have been the same if we’d shot in Canada. And the local community – from many, many individuals to the fire department and police in Oxford, the police in Easton, the Bixler’s of Oxford-Bellevue Ferry, the Tred Avon Yacht Club, locals and watermen whose boats we rented, restaurants, hotels and also people outside Talbot County like Jack Gerbes and the Maryland Film Office, Jed Dietz, and the Maryland Film Festival – everyone was incredibly supportive.

Spy: Do you think there are universal messages in the film that everyone can relate to?

DS: Of course I hope so. It’s a story about characters facing particular challenges, and so the theme operates on a subtle level … but part of the message in there is that growth and change are constants that require a measure of vulnerability and if that’s resisted or forgotten, well, both life and nature have a way of delivering wake-up calls.

Spy: Is there anything you would change or alter about the film if you had the opportunity?

DS: Not particularly, though I suppose as the father of a teenager there are one or two scenes I might tone down a bit for a younger audience – or at least to make things a little more comfortable for their parents.

Swimmers will be shown on April 20 at 6pm. For more information about Reel Gems and tickets please go here.
Photo of Doug Sadler by Chris Moore

Swimmer Credits 

WINNER – Best New American Film, Seattle Int’l Film Festival
WINNER – Best Director, Best Feature, Savannah Int’l Film Festival
WINNER – Best Ensemble Cast, Sidewalk Moving Picture Festival
WINNER – Best American Film, Festroia Int’l Film Festival (Portugal)
WINNER – Best Screenplay, Best Actor, Cartagena Film Festival (Spain)
FINALIST – Humanitas Award



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