Interviews: Director Jérémie Battaglia Talks About His Documentary Perfect

French filmmaker Jérémie Battaglia knew zip about synchronized swimming before he shot Perfect. Perfect follows the Canadian synchronised swimming team beyond the beauty, to the brawn it takes to qualify for Rio 2016. You can read our review here.

We had the opportunity to interview Battaglia about the film.

TMS: You’ve made a captivating movie – and that will be a surprise to most of us. Nobody is going to expect a film about synchronized swimming to be this suspenseful are they!?

JB: Thank you very much! I’m glad to read that.

Synchronized swimming is a sport that suffers from many stereotypes. It's one of the toughest sports yet. I wanted to show the difficulty and at the same time the beauty and grace of this sport. It was really the most important for me. These young women are warriors!

TMS: Why did you want to make this movie?

JB: Synchronized swimming suffers a huge misconception in the general public due to a serious lack of media exposure - like many women’s sports - and a widespread contempt for the so-called “artistic” disciplines. The glitter of their swimwear blinds us to the reality that once the make-up is removed, what’s left are high-level, high-performance athletes.

As a documentary director, I have always been interested in the debates that plague our society, whether they’re waged at the ballot box or taken to the streets. I want to give the people a voice and for me to disappear behind their words as they speak. Through my work I seek to overcome my own stereotypes, as well as those of society and to build bridges between both sides of the debate. I would never have imagined that my first feature would be on a synchronized swimming team’s quest for perfection on their journey to the Olympics. But I was introduced to this sport through a friend who works for the national team and would share stories about her “girls”, as she affectionately called them. Quickly, I recognized my own strong prejudices towards the sport. My initial research revealed the same prejudices in the media, in the sporting world, everywhere. It was the same mockery suffered by many artistic and/or female sports. In this team I saw an opportunity, as with all my projects, to learn more about my own preconceptions. So I followed the team as a photographer and started observing their daily routine. It was how everything started.

TMS: Why this particular team?

JB: I am a Frenchman who immigrated to Canada 10 years ago. I live in Montreal and the Canadian National Team trains in this city!

The Canadian team is particularly interesting because this team is very diverse in the profiles of swimmers and in particular the question of the type of bodies. While the other teams are looking for swimmers with a certain type of body to please the judges, the Canadian team wants to choose their swimmer primarily based on their physical performance and not aesthetic issues. It was for me the most beautiful aspect of this team, the most beautiful message, this team is the underdogs team.

TMS: Whose story, in the film, do you think is the most engaging?

JB: This is a difficult question! Marie-Lou for me is the most engaging character. She is the underdog in the underdog team. Her fight against her eating disorders and the very sincere, simple way she talks about it made me very emotional during the shoot. She was at the same time this incredibly strong woman, the captain of the team, this high level athlete and at the same time very fragile. She had everything to be loved by the audience I think.

TMS: Were you familiar with the sport before directing the movie?

Not at all. I was myself carrying many stereotypes about this sport! So I started from zero. I had to learn everything about this sport.

TMS: What did you learn from the swimmers, from working with them, that you weren’t aware of previously?

Everything! I was a complete newbie, I learned the vocabulary, the way of training, the way of judging, the technique ... I even learned many things that serve me today when I train for pleasure! But the thing that shocked me the most is the archaic way this sport is judged. Performance goes fast, very fast. And what is asked of the judges is impossible to achieve. It is a very unfair system.

TMS: What has happened to the swimmers since the movie?

Claudia is still on the team. She hopes to go to Tokyo in 2020! Marie-Lou, she is around the world on the biggest cruise ship in the world: she participates in a synchronized swimming show for the passengers on the boat. She enjoys herself and enjoys life. Good for her, after so many years training so much!

PERFECT is now on VOD.