'Swimming to Ferguson' blends the personal with the political
- Written by Diane Carson
Admirable individuals assess their personal talent to determine ways to make a constructive contribution to society. This is exactly what Henry Biggs does in "Swimming to Ferguson," a clever title signaling the unusual combination of his marathon swimming ability and racial unrest. As Biggs asks early in the documentary, "There's a problem. What are we going to do about it?"
Having already swum the English Channel, though he's now 25 years older in 2015, Biggs decides to raise money to support education and mentoring programs in Ferguson by swimming the 28 miles around Manhattan. He says, "I want to do something to help my community," thereby putting the Robert F. Kennedy quotation included in the film into practice, i.e. "Each time a man stands up for an idea or acts to improve the lot of others, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope." Even though Biggs admits there's nothing that frightens him more than open water swimming, he trains three to six hours a day, determined to contribute, raising over $120,000.
With expert narrator Joe Buck, who also appears on camera, director Derek Elz punctuates Biggs' grueling workouts with interview footage focused on Ferguson and prevalent U.S. racism. Michael Brown's father and his half-brother speak eloquently of their loss and grief. Reverend Starsky Wilson, Co-chair of the Ferguson Commission, Washington University Professor Gerald Early, Captain Ron Johnson, Dr. Harvey R. Fields, Ferguson's mayor and others describe the importance of mentors and the constructive action needed to combat the status quo. They speak calmly and insightfully.
Meantime Henry Biggs, having conquered the Manhattan swim, decides to attempt the Triple Crown of ultramarathon swimming, hoping to add swimming the Catalina Island channel to California. His wife, son, and support staff take us on a daunting adventure with some beautiful cinematography. However, as for Henry Biggs and as he notes, the greatest challenge is for those of us who aren't remarkable to do remarkable things. We see that in "Swimming to Ferguson," that is, contributing in every way we can to ending racism. "Swimming to Ferguson" screens exclusively at Landmark's Tivoli Cinema.