Last July, a swarm of swimmers in bright pink caps swam the Hudson River beneath the Lower Manhattan skyline. Amongst them was native New Yorker Giorgio Piccoli ’07, swimmer number 118 in a line-up of almost 200. He was accompanied by Gabriel Long ’09, a Sun photographer, who remained above water with a camera to capture the event.
After meeting up in the city, the two decided to document the annual Governor’s Island two-mile race with Long as director and Piccoli as race participant. The filming began at 4 o’clock the morning of the race and ended that afternoon. “It was one intense day,” recalled Long. In a few weeks time, the two had put together a short documentary entitled Swimming New York City on one of many swimming events hosted by the Manhattan Island Foundation.
Established in 1993, the foundation organizes a variety of annual races in the rivers of New York City that offer more than just a little exercise. They range from half-mile swims to 28.5-mile marathons. Participants in the races get to experience a different side of the vast city. “It’s a such a unique perspective,” said Piccoli, “as I was swimming, I would lift my arm and see the statue of liberty.”
The water-level view of the city might be memorable, but the races serve an ambitious purpose. The Manhattan Island Foundation uses them to raise awareness of the rivers’ cleanliness and their need for further upkeep.
Swimming in the city’s waterways, a tradition since the 1800’s, became a very unhealthy pastime due to the pollution in the last century. Only recently has it been deemed clean enough for swimming. In their documentary, Piccoli and Long emphasize the current cleanliness of the river and echo the foundation’s mission to keep it clean.
In spite of its short length, Swimming New York City not only puts a word in for cleaner rivers, but it also captures something important about the city itself. The documentary provides an insight into an event that highlights the distinctive and vibrant force that is New York City. In describing his intentions, Long said, “My idea was first and foremost to show this as a New York City event because I am in love with that city and I think it is a great American treasure.”
Long and Piccoli entered the production with enthusiasm and a detailed storyboard, but with limited experience. Swimming New York City marks their first time working together, and Long’s first documentary directed alone. Piccoli commented, “It was great that we could tell our story, even with limited experience.” They may not have been doing this long, but their recent work has translated into a successful foundation. Shortly after editing the documentary, Long and Piccoli posted it on Current TV, an internet hub for non-fiction video in the form of “Pods.” Pods can cover any subject, in any style and range from one to seven minutes in length. Viewers vote on what Pods they deem suitable for TV. Pods are then ranked and aired based on both viewer ranking and approval of Current TV’s staff and sponsors. Swimming New York City earned staffs’ picks and viewers’ votes until it was okayed for TV.
Propelled by the success of their documentary, Long and Piccoli are anxious to make more . Their goal for this semester is a total of five Pods for Current TV. The first is another documentary on the Sexual Health Awareness Group (SHAG), currently in the filming process. They plan to launch their upcoming works under their newly formed production company, “Pi House Productions,” named after their fraternity, Sigma Pi.
Through Pi House, the pair have expanded their resources. One of their major goals is to make productions that not only have a basis in innovative ideas but are also technically well-produced. “Now that we’re producing other things, we can get better and hone in on technical aspects,” said Piccoli. Their aspiration to improve and their growing body of documentaries make it safe to assume we will be seeing these two again.
Swimming New York City will debut on Current TV tonight on Time Warner channel 134. This evening’s schedule will not be released until a few hours before airing, but the documentary is available on the Current TV website at any time.
To see the schedule and check out Swimming New York City, go to www.currenttv.com. For more on the Manhattan Island Foundation, try their official site, www.nycswim.org