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Open water, Open arms.

Last month we were proud to welcome marathon swimmer Beth French and director Stefan Stuckert to our stores for an exclusive run of screenings of Against the Tides, an epic film that follows Beth as she attempted to complete the Oceans Seven challenge, in a single year.

With sell-out crowds at every single venue, we were overwhelmed with the response. Below, Beth and Stefan reflect on the tour and give their own perspective on the successful screenings that brought together a wide audience of ocean enthusiasts.

 Beth French stands in front of the crowd at a screening of Against The Tides in Finisterre's store

Beth

 

I had long fawned over Finisterre posts and hankered after the windswept life shown in their pics, despite living that life myself. I was girding my loins, poised to launch a crowdfunding project to help raise funds for my epic 'Oceans Seven in a year' mission. I had gone big and I wasn’t about it go home on this one, but I knew I couldn’t do it alone.

I had found a venue for a launch in London, aiming to break beyond my own friendship circle, but only ten days out the venue let me down. I put out a Facebook post, asking if anyone had any ideas or leads for a venue – adventure if not swimming based, in central London – and within the hour I was steered towards Finisterre and their Covent Garden store. Within minutes of speaking to them, it felt like home: not just adventurous, but ocean loving and ethical.

Having swum all over the world, and tapped into the myriad forms of open water swimming communities – from Lido Life to channel swimmers, night dippers to daredevil coastal explorers – it has been an utter joy to bring Against the Tides into the Finisterre community, and bring with me some new faces from an alternative watery world.

Against the Tides is a beautiful film. I can say that without agenda as I had absolutely nothing to do with the production – the cinematography and direction are stunning. Water shown at its best, from a more immersive, introspective viewpoint; a bigger landscape out of sight of land, but a more intimate portrait, up close and invested. It is a very human tale and at times I still feel very vulnerable sharing it, standing up for all to see and query my motives and my choices.

Arial view of Beth French swimming in open water as part of the Oceans 7 challenge

"You have to see this!" - Matt Indge

Human connection and connection to the ocean is what Finisterre are about, so my story fits right in. Water is where the world makes sense to me. It’s where I thrash out new concepts of how to be when I get back on land, where I seek and find peace and ultimately commune with myself. I fell in love with my body by being in the water, loving it for what it can do rather than the spurious image-based ideas we nurture about body confidence and self-love. Water gave me back my body, when I was so far removed from feeling comfortable in my own skin.

The first three screenings were on home turf – the South West – and I was flying solo; to be joined by the director Stefan Stuckert for the latter three screenings further afield, as well as having my son Dylan in tow. Starting the tour alone, and hearing they were sell-out crowds, I made my way down the M5 and tucked in by Exeter cathedral full of high hopes and a little jitter of nerves.

I can honestly say, I was blown away. The range of people who came out- from teenage to twilight- and even a couple who had come up from near Falmouth as they had missed out on getting tickets and were determined to see it. I was a little perplexed, until I heard that the Falmouth crowd had swallowed the ticket allocation in under 2 hours!

One thing that strikes me about having the films shown in store, is that is it really harbours that closeness; with people willing to sit cheek by jowl, and in Falmouth, wedged in all kinds of nooks and crannies. The feeling that we are all in this together amplifies the intimacy. And the store staff all being adventurous water babes, there is so much to talk about. The camaraderie and community is perfect. 

Beth French captured swimming underwater during her oceans 7 challenge

"I saw Against the Tides last night and just wanted to say what an amazing film it is - definitely go and see it if you get the chance." - Ruth Seward

The Q & A sessions on my own felt like an extended movie night with friends. I pottered up to the front once the credits rolled and bantered and nattered. It’s great to engage and share that space. I am often bewildered when people say, “Well, I swim, but nothing like you!’ to which I reply, ‘How on earth do you swim then? If you love being in the water, then I reckon we swim exactly the same.’ Water is a great leveller, and while I am blessed to have been to epic places and swum epic swims, being in the water is immediately, viscerally recognisable to those that succumb to the siren song of the sea.

Bristol had a sell-out crowd on our initial cinematic tour and I was curious to see the Finisterre posse. There is such a strong swim pod there I was amazed that there was space for anyone without gills! Appearing from the back room as the credits rolled, not only was there the wave of applause that still makes me blush, but a buzz and hum. So, when I called for a toilet and beer break before we got into the Q&A, an eruption of conversation swept the room that I had to wrestle back! Diving into the conversations going on, the questions kept coming (far past the 30mins I am used to!) and even threatened to follow me down the street! I could have easily been there until midnight chatting.

Channel swimming is quite an isolating occupation. Despite relying on a support crew, there is very little communication and you have to be comfortable in your own head. I swim for the peace, the sense of freedom and space. It is such an honour to get to travel the country, connecting with people who get me in a way that can’t be expressed fully or easily. The shared experiences far outweigh the scale of the differences. Dips at nights, the illicit surrender into the inky black water, the thrill of releasing your body to the cold... these are not the premise of the elite, nor even limited to swimmers at all. I love the recognition and realisation that occurs when we water lovers gather, and being available to explore that similarity is such a gift.

Beth French Swimming powerfully in open waters on the Oceans 7 challenge

"I came to the Brighton screening last night and it was absolutely incredible. Thanks so much!!" - Molly Maire

Stefan

 

Making independent films in the UK is a challenging endevour and finding supporters who believe in your project and offer help and resources is critical. Finisterre have been with us from the start and we are proud and honoured to have them as one of our key supporters. The audience were mostly swimmers from the several local open water swimming organisations and it was great to meet some of them before the screening, so inspiring to hear them talk about their 'daily swims' and their deep connection to the sea.

It had been some time since I'd done a Q&A with Beth and it was lovely to re-unite with her. During the filming of Against the Tides we kept the a clear line between the filmmaking team and Beth's team; between her challenge of completing Oceans Seven and our challenge of making a film about it, so that it would not turn into a promotional piece. But now, during the theatrical release in the UK, we very much joined forces.

It takes a brave person and a lot of trust to allow a filmmaking team into your life and into your home; to let them film you from the moment you wake up to the moment you go to sleep without any idea of what the outcome might be. It takes even more guts to watch a feature length film about yourself - warts and all - and to go on the road with it, facing audience's questions and criticisms.

The screening in London the following day was a sort of homecoming. The first filming we did for Against the Tides was at Finisterre’s Covent Garden store, when Beth launched her Oceans Seven challenge in 2016. So it was great to come back here with the finished film, watch the reactions of the audience during the film and answer people’s questions afterwards.

The queue outside Finisterre's Edinburgh store for the screening of Against the Tides

"What an absolutely fantastic documentary! I feel inspired by every step of Beth's journey!" - Tania Watts

We've had many sold-out screenings since we started our cinema release back in May, but it has never stopped being exciting to see a row of people queuing down the block to see Against the Tides as we did in Edinburgh. And what a great crowd it was. You can tell about an audience from the way they interact with the film and whether they pick on the nuances of the characters and the story twists. And when they are so engaged and involved as they were here, you know you're in for a treat!

Against the Tides is a rewarding film – Beth's achievements both as an athlete and as a person are remarkable – but it can also be frustrating viewing because of the complexities of her predicament. She is a single mother of an autistic boy and has to make difficult choices to align her sporting ambitions, her dreams for herself and her responsibilities as a parent.

Beth's journey is challenging, but also inspiring. The many positive responses from the audience on this tour shows that we’re on the right path, that the word will spread and that audiences will find it.

Words by Beth French & Stefan Stuckert