Interview with Learn to Swim director Thyrone Tommy

Learn to Swim is a musical excursion that takes us through the passions of love and the anguish of loss. Learn to Swim is in theatres.

Read our conversation with director Thyrone Tommy now!

Learn to Swim is a musical excursion that takes us through the passions of love and the anguish of loss. Thyrone Tommy’s debut feature follows Dezi (Thomas Antony Olajide), a dazzling saxophone player experiencing grief, and Selma (Emma Ferreira), a effervescent passionate singer. We see a blossoming romance that is doomed due to the emotional baggage that each of them carry.

Learn to Swim is a film that truly details what the grieving process is like. The highs and lows are further explored through the lens of Jazz music. The film not only highlights the very best of the human experience, it also uncovers the very worst. With a fantastic cast and script penned by Marni and Thyrone Tommy and amazing cinematography by Nick Haight, This is an outstanding debut!

I spoke to the film’s director, Thyrone Tommy about the process of creating such an amazing film and the support given to him by the The CFC/Netflix Calling Card Accelerator program.

Deareyes: “What has it been like to craft your first feature film?

Thyrone: “The film was written back in 2017 by me and my co-writer Marni Van Dyk when we were at the CFC (Canadian Film Centre), and we wanted to explore the idea of someone going through grief after a loss. That first sketch is a polar opposite of the feature film, and it naturally progressed from there. It organically grew into a feature in March 2020, Which was during a pandemic, which feels like a lifetime ago.

Deareyes: “What’s the inspiration behind Learn to Swim?”

(L-R) Thyrone Tommy, Emma Ferreira, Marni Van Dyk, and Thomas Antony Olajide attend the “Learn To Swim” Photo Call during the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival at Cineplex Scotiabank Theatre on September 11, 2021 in Toronto, Ontario. Photo Courtesy of Getty Images.

Thyrone: “Learn to Swim was developed by Marni and me sharing stories about grief and love lives. We were both…we were inspired by New Orleans Jazz, so that is where the music was added in. When we had initially done the short, we did not feel like we explored the movie as we wanted, and then we had the opportunity to turn it into a feature film. The biggest thing that we added was Selma, and Introducing Selma changed the whole trajectory of the film.

Thomas Antony Olajide as Dezi in LEARN TO SWIM, photo by Samantha Falco, Courtesy of Mongrel Media

De’Areyes: “Why did you choose to open the film with just music?

Thryone: “The music was actually created before we shot the film. In a way, the music was kind of Its own script. Once we built that part of the film out, we had a musical script that was a script to the actual script. We did not shy away from extended musical performances; The music itself introduces us to who these characters are and what music truly means to them.”

De’Areyes “On the subject of cinematography, I noticed the colors purple and red utilized in the essential parts of the film; was that intentional? And if so, why?”

Thyrone: “The color was intentional. Yellow and Gold characterize Selma and the warmth and passion that she invokes. Blue characterizes Dezi and his inner battle with his struggles. Interestingly, Dezi’s room was just your regular white apartment, and we painted the room blue to match his character.”

Emma Ferreira as Selma and Thomas Antony Olajide as Dezi in LEARN TO SWIM, Courtesy of Mongrel Media

De’Areyes: “Dezi and Selma have amazing romantic and sexual tension, but their road is not easy. What can you say about how their story was crafted?”

Thyrone: “A lot of it is based on my relationships. The story of Dezi and Selma is two musicians whose romance is not usual. Their romance comes from their passion and their drive. Once we created the passion, the intensity was easy to come about. Both characters come from very passionate cultures, which causes them to love very hard and fall very hard. ” 

Emma Ferreira as Selma and Thomas Antony Olajide as Dezi in LEARN TO SWIM, Courtesy of Mongrel Media

De’Areyes: “This film was shot in two weeks. That’s amazing. How could you shoot a 90-minute film in such a condensed time frame?

Thyrone: “The film was shot in about eighteen days. It was not built like this; because of the pandemic, the timing was changed, and we had to split the shoot into two parts. However, the split had some benefits; we got to craft our story in ways that would have not been possible without that extended time!”

De’Areyes: This film was assisted by the CFC/Netflix Calling Card Accelerator Program. What are some struggles that up-and-coming filmmakers have that the program helped fix?

Thyrone: “The CFC/Netflix Calling Card Accelerator Program helps fill out the scenes that filmmakers have. It was nice to have the support that sees the gaps in your filmmaking and fills those gaps to make your film a success.

De’Areyes: “What did the program allow you to do that you wouldn’t have been able to do on your own?”

Thyrone: “The program helped us mostly with post-production. We were able to look back at what we created and fine-tune things that we would have otherwise overlooked. It was very important to show a young black man going through grief and healing through music and highlight black romance in the film. I wanted people to understand that everyone goes through the cycles of grief and the program allowed me to piece everything together.”

Learn to Swim premiered theatrically on Friday, March 25, 2022, but you can buy tickets to watch it here.

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