The Ponds feature-length film is coming out

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Patrick Mclennan and Samuel Smith spent 12 months filming the regulars at the three bathing ponds on Hampstead Heath


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We are keen swimmers here in the office, although I can’t pretend we’re all-year-rounders: this year, however, I did swim from April till October, both in the Parliament Hill Lido and (my favourite) the Men’s Ponds.

To most users of the Heath, the hardcore daily dippers are a source of undeniable fascination, and if you want to know the stories behind some of the water addicts, new feature-length documentary The Ponds, premiered at this month’s Dartmouth Park Film Club, profiles a year spent with the swimmers.

Across the Heath’s 320 hectares of forest and parkland, as well as the three swimming ponds, cameras filmed regulars over 12 months as they “swam, laughed, sang, complained, ruminated, philosophised and simply sought respite from all that life threw at them”, says co-director Patrick McLennan.

“The act of getting into the cold water brings about a feeling of freedom from the stresses of life, a sense of connection with nature and other swimmers, and a euphoric sensation so powerful it should be banned,” he says.

Characters include market research company owner David, who lost two stone since filming began and whose comical asides belie the more serious reasons he swims there; businesswoman Carrie, who had a double mastectomy just before filming began; US mining executive Tom, who first used the pond as therapy after he came out of a two-week coma; the group of women who call themselves the ‘Kenwood Slappers’; and Chris Ruocco, Fortess Road’s old school tailor and ex-boxer, who first swam at the ponds more than 60 years ago.

Finally, did you know that the Russians have an expression that captures the ponds’ appeal? ‘Zhivaya voda’ literally means ‘living water’ – the pleasing (and rather life-affirming) idea that everyone who swims in a body of water contributes to its essence.

In short, it’s one not to miss.

The Ponds will screen at the Everyman Hampstead on January 10th with more screenings to follow. In the meantime the always good Dartmouth Park Film Club is screening it on 26th Nov at 7pm, Highgate Library Civic Centre, Croftdown Road NW5. More info here


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