Stunning Film, “Sink or Swim,” Explores Depression



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Examiner, Volume 7, Issue 3
July 2018

By Carolyn D. Cowen


We are delighted to launch the new Examiner feature, “The Art of Dyslexia,” with “Sink or Swim,” a stunning film that explores the challenging subject of depression. Even in the film’s first moments—indeed from the moment it opens with a series of inhales and exhales—it is clear that “Sink or Swim” is a gem. Exquisitely choreographed, superbly danced, vividly filmed, and masterfully scored, this powerful little film stays with you longer than the four minutes and forty-eight seconds it takes to view.

Co-writer, choreographer, and executive producer Charlotte Edmonds played a key role in bringing this beautiful film to life. She also has dyslexia, which she credits with helping her envision this multidimensional work of art.

After viewing the film, read on for the inspiring Q&A with Charlotte. If you teach older students, consider using this film as a springboard for a discussion or writing assignment (e.g., “What do you see in the woman’s face as she emerges from the bath?”).


Q&A With Charlotte Edmonds


Q: Charlotte, we love this beautiful film; please tell us more about the creative roles you played in “Sink or Swim.”

A: I was a co-writer, choreographer, and executive producer on “Sink or Swim.” I also got a starring role as Frankie’s stand-in! (Francesca Hayward, a principal dancer with The Royal Ballet, is the dancer in “Sink or Swim.”) I spent a lot of time underwater with the scuba team plotting Frankie’s movements with the crew in preparation for her performance. It can be tiring moving underwater, so I would stand in to save Frankie from running out of energy; it was a 9-hour shoot! When Frankie was performing underwater, I would watch from outside the tank so I could see how the choreography looked on camera. Understanding how it felt to move underwater enabled me to communicate effectively and support Frankie during the shoot—it is harder to explain what you are trying to achieve without knowing the feel of the motions.

“I found myself suffering in silence and never felt encouraged to speak out. This is why I am passionate about this film—there should be no shame in admitting you can’t keep your head above water.”

Q: Tell us a bit more about other artists on your team.

A: I had not created a film on this scale before—it was ambitious. I needed a passionate and dedicated team behind me, and I found them! I approached Louis-Jack (director) and Matt Dunkley (composer) early on in the process. Louis-Jack and I storyboarded the whole film to the music so that we would know what would be happening at precisely each second. I choreographed two dances—for both the studio and the tank—to the whole of Matt’s composition. The idea was that we would be able to replace any single moment in the tank with an equivalent shot in the studio. Needless to say, there was fine-tuning in the very precise editing process. We also wanted to create moments of synergy and contrast within the film. So you will notice contrast between the dark and light spaces, but also the occasional match cut that makes the studio and tank feel as one.

Matt created the music especially for the film. I had previously choreographed a work to one of Matt’s compositions; I loved the cinematic quality of his music. It was important to me to collaborate with artists, like Matt, who immerse themselves in the subject. This offers a holistic approach to the music, dance, and visuals. Over the course of a year, Louis and I worked with Matt on many different versions to arrive at the composition you hear in the film.

Q: How did this film come about? What is its genesis?

A: I came across Ian Cumberland’s self-portrait “Sink or Swim” reading the BP Portrait Award 2015 book. Like all of Ian’s work, he has the ability to compel raw emotions though a static image. The portrait captures someone in the throes of depression, at crisis point. It felt like a critical moment when someone was desperately trying to take control of his emotions. Louis and I felt compelled to create a film to capture this all-too-familiar struggle and the uncertainty of this moment.

Q: Is the film informed by your own experiences with depression?

A: The image resonated with me on a very personal level. When I was at boarding school there was a time when I felt like I hit rock bottom. For me the bathroom in the boarding house became a private space of contemplation and introspection. When I saw Ian’s portrait, I instantly related to it; I saw myself in Ian.

Q: How does “Sink or Swim” relate to your experiences with dyslexia?

A: Dyslexia may present challenges in day-to-day life, but it also can provide pearls of wisdom. My advice for anyone who has dyslexia is to embrace it and to stand out from the rest. I was lucky to be given an opportunity to study for a degree at a specialist dance college, which valued my strengths. People who have dyslexia can be great at looking at problems and solving them. Do not give up; just find another route to reach your goals and fulfill your ambition. I think in 10 years’ time, people will understand that dyslexia is not a disadvantage; it is a secret weapon! When I first envisioned “Sink or Swim,” I collected ideas and channelled them to create a bigger picture, which helped me envision the final product. I apply this strategy to all my work and to my personal life; it helps me strive to do my best and be the best I can be, and fulfill my potential.

Q: What is the most important thing you want people to understand after watching your film?

A: It is often very difficult, or even impossible, for people who are suffering with mental health issues to describe how they are feeling. Louis-Jack and I wanted to use dance as a way to show people how it feels to experience depression in order to promote empathy and awareness of this issue. I hope the film also reminds people who are suffering from depression that they are not alone in their struggle.


How to Submit Works of Art for Consideration for Publication in the Examiner

If you have an artistic work you would like to submit for consideration in future issues of the Examiner, please send inquiries and submissions to Submissions must feature artistic work by someone with dyslexia or by a creative team on which someone with dyslexia has played a key role. Any artistic genre from someone with dyslexia of any age is welcome, but given the Examiner’s digital platform, we are especially interested in pieces that take less than five minutes to read, view, or listen to. Each submission must include the original art in publishable form, a short biography, and a headshot (.jpg) of the artist. Space limitations preclude publishing every artistic work we receive, but we greatly value the talent and effort behind each submission and will give each one careful consideration. Artists we publish must agree to participate in a Q&A.


Carolyn D. Cowen, Ed.M., CDT, is the Digital Media Strategist/Content Editor for the International Dyslexia Association’s Examiner. She is an educator and social entrepreneur known for developing and managing programs and initiatives that improve the teaching-learning landscape for students with learning differences. These days, she focuses on harnessing the power of digital media to make complex information accessible and actionable for the spectrum of decision makers involved in creating change on behalf of students with dyslexia and other reading challenges. Carolyn also focuses on helping nonprofits strategically power the mission with the message. She serves on the Board of Trustees for the Newgrange School, Ann Robinowitz Education Center, and Laurel School and on the Board of Directors for the Research Institute for Learning and Development. Follow her on Twitter @cdcowen.

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