Cold Refuge

A new feature documentary about the philosophical, psychological, and spiritual aspects of full immersion in the natural world, Cold Refuge is about how swimming in cold water helps mitigate life’s challenges such as grief, loss, disease, discrimination, disability, and stress. Diverse film subjects include a wheelchair-bound, paralyzed swimmer who faces fear by diving off a high pier; an African-American who was told by whites when he was 13 that “black people don’t swim” (it took him 30 years to try); a blind man who tethers himself to a sighted swimmer; a lawyer who reduces courtroom stress in the open water; a woman with aggressive breast cancer who “swims to chemo”; and a young woman who communes with her late mom in San Francisco Bay, where they both swam together.


Along with swimmers’ stories of adversity and resilience, the film’s marine mammals, birds, artwork, and a variety of open-water locations around San Francisco Bay create a visual meditation on what it means to be fully present in the natural world.


Cold Refuge is the fourth feature-length documentary by Sundance-and-Emmy-Award-winning filmmaker Judy Irving (Dark Circle, The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill, Pelican Dreams), who has been a year-round San Francisco Bay swimmer since 1984. In 2015, in recognition of her theatrical film track record, she was elected to the Documentary Branch of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.


Myriad possibilities exist for distribution, including Netflix, Amazon, iTunes (Wild Parrots, Pelican Dreams) and other streaming platforms; theatrical distributors such as First Run Features (released the restored 2K version of Dark Circle in 2020), Shadow Distribution (Wild Parrots, Pelican Dreams), or Ro*Co Films (will release the restored 4K version of Wild Parrots); and television such as PBS’ P.O.V. (Dark Circle) or Independent Lens (Wild Parrots). 


The film has been supported by individuals, foundations, and by several donor-advised funds. Pelican Media is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, and all donations are tax-deductible. Cold Refuge will be released in late 2022.