Ali Weinstein started swimming at the East York Community Centre before her first birthday. Her father, Larry Weinstein, says while other kids were miserable in the water, she had the widest smile he’d ever seen.
Now 32, Ali grew up watching her father’s documentaries in their home near Pape and Danforth. Larry’s notable recent works include TSN’s Engraved on a Nation about the Saskatchewan Roughriders and Dreaming of a Jewish Christmas. Most of his documentaries, like Beethoven’s Hair, focus on classical music.
After being a competitive synchronized swimmer for five years in high school and a stint in law school, Ali approached her father with an itch to become a filmmaker.
For Larry, 61, it was a delightful surprise.
Ali’s first documentary feature, Mermaids, premiered at Hot Docs last year. When making the film, which examines mermaid mythology and the subculture around it, she asked her father for advice.
Now, the duo is co-directing a documentary that captures both of Ali’s passions. Two generations of filmmakers are showcasing three generations of female marathon swimmers in the sequel to TSN’s Engraved on a Nation series.
“When TSN asked me if I’d make another documentary for them, I knew exactly who I wanted to be my co-director,” Larry said. “I always wanted to work with Ali really badly.”
They can swim for over 36 hours straight and even hallucinate in the water.
The documentary will follow Marilyn Bell, the first person to swim across Lake Ontario in 1954; Vicki Keith Munro, the most successful marathon or open-water swimmer ever; and her apprentice, Maya Farrell, 15, who is hoping to complete a record 88-km swim from Rochester to Toronto.
Thunderstorms forced a cancellation of Farrell’s previous attempt at the swim across Lake Ontario in 2016, where she started from Niagara-on-the-Lake instead of Rochester.
Ali said Farrell would have been the youngest person to complete the swim, but the grueling determination needed to be an open-water swimmer is present regardless of success.
“They can swim for over 36 hours straight and even hallucinate in the water,” she said.
Though swimming can be a challenge, capturing the sport poses similar trials. TSN approved the documentary in late March and wants it finished by September, to air later this fall. The first shoot was April 5.
“It’s hard because you don’t want to be presumptuous,” Larry said about following subjects. “They’re in the process of, ‘Am I going to have a world record swim?’ and you wonder if you being there will be a distraction.”
Having dad as a role model growing up set a high standard for myself in terms of what I wanted to do.
Even with the potential for problems, the Weinsteins stayed afloat.
“It was this beautiful choreography,” Larry said about their first shoot. “We gravitated between subjects.”
But with Larry working on another project about the history of propaganda, Ali will be left to direct many scenes solo.
“I’m sure it’ll be totally fine and an opportunity for me to step up, but it does make me sad. It would be nice to have all the shoots with us together,” she said. “Having dad as a role model growing up set a high standard for myself in terms of what I wanted to do.”
The directing duo hopes to make the most of their first film together — and it may not be their last.
“It’s great. I don’t know how common it is for a family to work like this in film,” Larry said. “I never knew I could support her the way she could support me. It would be fun to form a company with her.”