Directed by: Grant Barbeito and Christo Brock
Starring: Missy Franklin, Kara Lynn Joyce,
When we watch the Olympic Games, we only get a glimpse of every athlete and what each them did prior to the games to prepare them for that pivotal moment that will ultimately shape their career. It’s that rare peek into the years of preparation, commitment and determination that we get to see in the documentary film, Touch the Wall.
Even if you don’t follow swimming, most people have heard of the world-record setting U.S. Olympic gold medalist, Missy Franklin. In the film, Franklin is introduced as a bright, charismatic fourteen-year-old with a contagious smile that thrives greater than any competitive nature you may be accustomed to seeing with Olympic hopefuls. Alongside Franklin is Olympic silver medalist Kara Lynn Joyce, who co-stars in the film. Joyce makes the decision to move to Colorado to train with Franklin and the Colorado Stars swim team, with hopes of making it to her third Olympic Games.
As we watch Franklin’s talent in her sport emerge, so does her humble attitude and commitment to her swim team, which holds even stronger than her determination to become a pro athlete, which she decides not to persue at first.
Her parents are not those ubiquitous overbearing, despotic parents that are found in sports; rather they are supportive, endearing, nurturing, and have the utmost respect for their only child. Woven in are excerpts of family life and the mutual admiration Franklin and her parents garner for one another, from Missy preparing some of her favourite snacks and sweets onscreen, to sharing laughs and abundant hugs with both her mother and father.
The viewer can see right from the beginning of the film that Franklin and Joyce are at two completely different points in their lives. Before the London 2012 Summer Olympic Games, Joyce had successfully competed in Athens and Beijing, winning two silver medals. This gives the viewer an immediate impression that Joyce’s swimming career may have already reached the finish line. Franklin, on the other hand, is an emerging swimming superstar with success in her sport racing full throttle in her direction.
Independent filmmakers Grant Barbeito and Christo Brock reveal how the two swimmers formulate a friendship right from the beginning, and support one another; there’s that unyielding sisterly bond that grows and stays strong throughout the film. The film takes the viewer step by step from the very beginning, highlighting each pivotal moment when Joyce and Franklin step up on the block.
Barbeito and Brock immediately saw the potential in Missy upon meeting her. “We were looking to tell a story when we originally found Missy,” said Brock. “We hoped that this film does for swimming what it does for basketball.”
The cinematography evokes a youthful sense of discovery, with some of the film’s most powerful scenes shot in the early morning hours, when the swimmers must brace the chilly Colorado winter weather to make it to practice as early as 4am, then head off to high school classes a few hours later.
The directors spent two years editing the film, as it took a while to find the structure that worked best. “It was a continual process of discovery. The timing of the film is unconventional,” added Barbeito. “There’s a lot of noise that happens around the Olympic years, but the big thing about this film is that it is the first that tells the story of two Olympians working together to achieve [not-so-similar] goals. It is a very American story, how hard Olympians have to work and how difficult it is to get to where they are. But when it comes down to it, [this story] is more about their friendship.”
Joyce highlights that she never experiences any tension or nerves when it comes to competing with other swimmers from around the world. “Each time we compete, and every time we step up to the block, we push ourselves. I am very familiar and friendly with all of my competitors, but I don’t follow them on social media. For everyone [in the pool], we prepared all-season for traveling, and are dealing with the same jet lag [and everything] at the same time.”
When asked about a particular training routine that works for her, Joyce explained that the “perfect formula” changes year by year. “It is a mixture of going to the weight room and practicing yoga; if you are happy and confident, that is what is going to make you fast.”
Touch the Wall carefully examines the very fine lines of what it takes to become an Olympic swimmer, the obstacles these athletes have to successfully overcome, and how with all of that hard work, it all adds up to who touches the wall first. Through each of their efforts and perseverance – and what Joyce and Franklin have learned from their experiences – the discreet question is asked: does it really only matter who touches the wall first?