‘Some middle-aged men choose a Harley, I chose a nose clip’

'Some middle-aged men choose a Harley, I chose a nose clip'
UK transplant and film director Dylan Williams talks to The Local's Peter Vinthagen Simpson about how making Men Who Swim (Män som simmar) -- a film described as "Spinal Tap in trunks" -- helped him deal with the challenges of integration, fatherhood and middle-aged physical decline.

“I had been working in film for a while on international projects. I met my partner while I was travelling around working for the Discovery Channel and moved to Sweden one summer. I thought I had landed in paradise, but hadn’t really considered the consequences,” Williams, a Welshman who moved to Stockholm a few years ago, tells The Local.

The film starts with a scene of Williams teaching an unruly school class with a voiceover telling the viewer: “I’d thought that learning Swedish would help me get a job, like the one I’d left in Britain.”

But Dylan Williams found that his career was left on the back-burner as he became a father and focused on learning the language, finding work wherever he could.

“Things started to go a bit slower for me professionally. We had a child. I got a job in the rubbish tip. Spent time working as a care worker,” Williams says.

Despite learning to speak Swedish fairly quickly, Williams tells The Local that finding a purpose and fitting in to his new homeland was proving problematic.

“I realised that there was a lot more to fitting in – and by that I don’t mean hanging around with a networks of expats who sit around and complain about Sweden.”

On the advice of his Swedish language teacher, Williams decided to join a club and came into contact with a group who were keen to develop their synchronised swimming team.

“I had never thought of myself as a club person before and I was not even aware that it was a male sport. But I was a good swimmer and my teacher told me that club life was key to fitting in.”

Williams took the plunge with the group of 13 other late thirty-somethings and formed what became the first all-male synchronised swimming team in Sweden, The Stockholm Art Swim Gents.

Short of male role models the team, which prefer the term “art swim” to synchronized swimming, turned to artistic consultant and trainer Jane Magnusson, who also works as a freelance journalist and penned the script to Allt flyter (Everything floats) – a 2008 feel good comedy which explored a similar theme.

The Gents took their first official bow at the 2004 Hultsfred Rock Festival, with two performances in Lake Hulingen, while Morrissey performed on the main stage of the now defunct Swedish music festival.

“At first the lads were mucking about. But then it was decided that we needed a constitution and a structure and so a meeting was called and the club was formed, officially,” Williams says.

The film charts the team’s progress from being Sweden’s only all-male art swim team to competing at the World Championships.

“We though we were the only team in the world, but found out later that there were several other teams and that’s how we ended up in these world championships,” Williams says, adding that on a personal level it provided a platform for his breakthrough in his adopted homeland.

“It has opened up so many doors for me. In that I met very like minded people who worked in all kinds of areas. People who would probably already have been my friends had I been Swedish.”

The film is a personal story about one man’s integration into a new homeland, but it is also very much a tale about masculinity, social interaction and growing older.

“You get to a certain age when it becomes difficult to meet people. I didn’t have a job, and it gave me my chance to create my own little world in Sweden, independent of my Swedish partner,” he says.

The film has gained exposure at a number of international film festivals and Dylan Williams tells The Local that while it is a documentary and audiences seem to respond to the “humanity” of the film, they enjoy a laugh at the sport itself.

“It is film about how to deal with a new identity – being a father, with all the pressure to be ‘duktig’ (responsible), but still wanting to have fun.”

“Some middle-aged men choose a Harley, I chose a nose clip”.

Män som simmar is showing at cinemas across Sweden and at film festivals from Belgrade to Damascus, from the US to the UK.

More information can be found (in Swedish) here: Stockholm Art Swim Gents

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