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Cold Refuge

(Why swim in a freezing bay where predators can kill you?)


Most people think it’s completely nuts to jump into cold water with sharks and sea lions who could kill you. But these adverse conditions in San Francisco Bay are nothing compared to the adversities some of the swimmers in Cold Refuge face in their own lives. The film's diverse film subjects include a wheelchair-bound, paralyzed swimmer who faces fear by diving off a high pier; a Black man 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 woman with aggressive breast cancer who “swims to chemo;” a lawyer who reduces courtroom stress in the open water; and a young woman who communes with her late mother in San Francisco Bay, where they both swam together.


Cold Refuge is about the physical, psychological, and spiritual aspects of full immersion in the natural world: how, though it may seem counter-intuitive, swimming in cold water helps mitigate some of life's most serious challenges.


Along with swimmers’ stories of adversity and resilience, the film’s marine mammals, birds, artwork, and a variety of open-water locations create a visual meditation on what it means to escape our abstract digital world in favor of what’s real. It is not a testimonial, but an example.


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 cable and public television such as PBS’ P.O.V. (Dark Circle) or Independent Lens (Wild Parrots).


Pelican Media, the production company, is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. The film was funded by individuals, foundations, and by several donor-advised funds. Cold Refuge will be released in early 2023.

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