Remarkably, the man who swam around the island of Abu Dhabi this year was once scared of swimming.
The documentary Swim 62, which had its premiere at Vox Cinemas in Nation Towers Mall on Wednesday, reveals how Mansour Al Dhaheri almost drowned in a pool when he was a child. He was mortified by the experience.
Al Dhaheri would not take up swimming until 30 years later. Initially, he saw it as an exercise to supplement his jiu-jitsu training. But soon, he developed a passion for it and took up the challenge of swimming the 62km around the city of Abu Dhabi. Symbolically, it would mean he had completely overcome his fear.
As Swim 62 shows, the feat was not as straightforward as he had at first thought.
The documentary follows Al Dhaheri’s journey from doing laps in an Olympic-sized pool to taking on the Gulf waters. What begins as a solitary endeavour gradually expands into a team of coaches, project managers as well as swimmers from the UAE military, police and a women’s swim team. Calling themselves Swimming Team 62, the group practices in incremental distances along different stretches around the island. They swam a total of 900km as part of the rigorous year-long training before attempting the feat on March 7.
The team includes Andre Santos, founder of Swim Together, an open-water swimming company; coaches Vania Neves and Arjuna "Fish" Don; the Al Jasmi brothers, who are professional athletes; Paul Walker, a human performance engineer; and Julie Lewis, 63, who owns an adventure company and takes part in Al Dhaheri’s nautical challenge.
While many of the swimmers join Al Dhaheri in intervals, he alone undertakes the mission of doing a complete lap around Abu Dhabi, taking short breaks to eat and rest.
Swim 62 is directed and produced by a man who shares Al Dhaheri’s name. Mansoor Al Yabhouni Al Dhaheri is the owner and chief executive of FilmGate Productions. He is known for being the showrunner of The Platform, a hit series on Netflix, as well as being the producer of The Misfits, the heist film starring Pierce Brosnan. The project is of a different timbre than Al Dhaheri’s other projects, but what all three have in common is that the city of Abu Dhabi has a prominent role in each production.
Swim 62 is replete with sprawling shots of Abu Dhabi’s coastlines and landmarks. Etihad Towers, the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, Louvre Abu Dhabi and the Saadiyat Cultural District are all filmed with breathtaking compositions. Drone shots capture the swimming team from above in wide shots that show the splendour of the emirate’s waters. The documentary also takes viewers underwater, showing the marine life of Abu Dhabi, from its coral reefs and sea turtles to its dolphins. With its fluid panning, tableauxesque framing and pinpoint tracking, the camera work is a strong point in the film.
The documentary shows how the team confronts the unforeseen challenges that reaffirm the might of nature. It also highlights how gumption and tenacity are required when undertaking a feat such as this. However, giving nature its due reverence is also a prerequisite.
While the film’s storytelling may feel loose at times, its strongest aspect is when underscoring the environmental issues that threaten the planet’s health. The documentary shows scenes of the worldwide effects of climate change and environmental damage, but also explores local issues. Swimming Team 62 encounters discarded plastics and waste during their practice sessions and take measures to collect the materials. They then take their mission to shore, visiting schools to highlight the importance of environmental protection and conservation.
The initiative also worked with the Department of Culture and Tourism in Abu Dhabi on a water safety lesson that attracted 336 students from across the emirate, setting a Guinness World Record for the largest number of people participating in such an event in one place. The lesson aimed to raise awareness on water safety measures while emphasising the dangers of swimming in open waters.
It’s not much of a spoiler to say that Al Dhaheri accomplished what he set out to do. He, along with the others from Swimming Team 62 have been celebrated on social media and even met President Sheikh Mohamed, who congratulated them on their accomplishment. The documentary, however, still manages to impart an element of suspense while showing how Al Dhaheri and team overcame obstacles in their attempt to swim around Abu Dhabi city.
Above all, Swim 62 is a documentary about a person overcoming a primal fear and, in doing so, rallies a community to support a vital cause. That element alone makes the film a worthwhile and moving watch.