It’s a tried and true cinematic formula: the sports comeback story. I won’t argue that director Brian Blum’s Blood and Water does much to innovate on a somewhat common story playbook, but, by combining familiar narrative threads with a highly specific portrayal of a cinematically unique sport (Olympic platform diving), the result is undeniably entertaining. Think of it like Whiplash, but set in a swimming pool (and without the scary jazz teacher who yells a lot).
Blood and Water works because it feels surprisingly authentic, especially for a student short. Starring 2016 Olympic silver medalist, Steele Johnson, it’s a film that that never seems like it’s pretending. Its portrayal of both the sport and the emotions behind it feel real, the details are precise. Even the accident that sets the film into motion is shown in clear and unsettlingly specific detail. It’s a bold choice for Blum to not cut away from inevitable collision, and the result is visceral and effective. Moreover, having a “real” diver like Johnson as the lead provides another layer of verisimilitude. He’s actually doing the diving, so we avoid all the cinematic fakery (cutaway close-ups, a body double) that could potentially take you out of the experience. Steele may not be the most accomplished actor, but he has a capable screen presence. Blum’s simple, yet sharp script manages to tow the line of melodrama without ever becoming too on-the-nose or cliché.
Although it features stellar production values, the story is more than just polished visuals. Blum really understands the ins and outs of competitive diving. As he relates to Short of the Week:
“I was a competitive diver for 12 years. One day, during diving practice, my head collided with the springboard with the springboard during a routine dive. If I had been one more inch further back on that diving board, I wouldn’t be walking around today. Instead, I escaped with 13 staples in the back of my head — extremely lucky. It took me 3 years to fully recover, psychologically. That experience is what ultimately inspired me to pursue this film.”
The film was an impressive production. With a budget north of $80K (with partial funding coming from crowd-sourcing), Blum shot the film over the course of two weeks, in 4 cities, in 3 different states. He’s currently developing his next short film, tentatively titled Yoshiko-Chan, which is based on a true story about a Japanese-American mother coming to terms with her daughter’s autism diagnosis. He hopes to start shooting in early 2018.