The Story

Shot entirely on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, “Swimmers” is an inspiring story of human frailty and individual strength in the face of a fracturing American dream – as observed through the eyes of an 11-year-old daughter of a Chesapeake Bay waterman.

“Swimmers” was written and directed by Doug Sadler – who received his MFA degree from the American Film Institute – and stars two-time Tony Award-winner Cherry Jones, Shawn Hatosy, Sarah Paulson, Robert Knott, and Tara Devon Gallagher.

After debuting at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival, the film went on to win the coveted Grand Jury Prize for “Best New American Film” from the Seattle International Film Festival, as well as “Best Director” and “Best Narrative Feature” from the Savannah Film Festival, “Best Script” and “Best Actor” (Robert Knott) from the Cartagena Film Festival in Spain, and “Best American Independent Film” from the Festroia International Film Festival in Portugal.

“Swimmers” marks the astonishing acting debut of a major new talent, Tara Devon Gallagher, in the pivotal role of 11-year-old Emma Tyler – whose passion for swimming is suddenly disrupted by an ear injury requiring expensive surgery. Gallagher’s only prior onscreen appearance was as one of the featured dance competitors in the hit documentary, “Mad Hot Ballroom.”

In her most prominent screen role to date, Broadway legend Cherry Jones portrays Emma’s fiercely-determined mother, who has no choice but to become the emotional jetty that keeps the family from being swept away by financial crisis and outside influences.

Robert Knott plays Emma’s father, a waterman struggling with the realization that his profession is teetering on the brink of extinction as the Chesapeake’s once-productive fishery continues to spiral downward.

In “Swimmers,” Sarah Paulson tackles her most challenging film role to date as Merrill, the mysterious, kohl-eyed beauty who suddenly turns up in town in a desperate attempt to understand her own emotionally-troubled past. As the story unfolds, Merrill and Emma – who is shattered by her own recent loss – form a delicate bond that becomes their sanctuary from the personal crises that threaten to drown both. As Merrill becomes an oasis for Emma, who feels invisible at home, she in turn finds herself growing ever dependent on the unconditional friendship the child provides.

Shawn Hatosy, who grew up in Frederick, Maryland, co-stars in “Swimmers” as Emma’s brother, the town’s newly-installed police officer who first encounters Merrill wandering aimlessly at the bottom of an empty pool, then falls in love with her.

Following “Swimmers’” Sundance premiere, J. Greenberg of The Hollywood Reporter, wrote: “ Before Miramax brought independent film to the multiplex and Sundance made it a national sport, American independent cinema was about regional filmmaking. Small, well-told stories rooted in a specific time and place. A rocky coming-of-age tale set along the Maryland coast, ‘Swimmers’ is that kind of film.”

It’s not surprising that Doug Sadler says, “I personally feel the more interesting stories are the ones that are rooted in a place.” Born in the bayou country outside New Orleans, he has lived on the Chesapeake’s Eastern Shore since high school, and continues to divide his time between Easton and New York.

“My creative juices seem to flow more here,” he says of his decision to stay rooted in Maryland. “I find the rural element of it interesting, talking to people who work with their hands, the openness of the landscape. It feeds me creatively.”

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