Five hundred and ninety-three days before the Olympic Trials for the 2012 London Olympics. That’s when we meet then 14-year-old Missy Franklin in Touch the Wall, a documentary premiering next month at the 2014 Starz Denver Film Festival (November 12–23). We watch Missy try to keep her eyes open as she arrives at the pool for a 5 a.m. practice. We see her in the gym doing dry land training. We listen to her talk about why she swims. In essence: the work that led up to her five medals and two world records in London (and a state championship with her high school team).

But this 101-minute documentary is not just a sports film—the rarely seen female sports documentary at that–and it’s more than simply a profile of an up-and-coming athlete. Rather, it’s a study of the life of an athlete, contrasting a young(er) Franklin, who is just entering the media parade, and Kara Lynn Joyce, a four-time Olympic silver medalist who is discovering that trying to make an Olympic team at age 26 is much different than it was at 18.

Joyce moved to Colorado to train with Franklin and her coach Todd Schmitz. Says Franklin: “Kara had a huge influence on me. She really brought my level of training up. Everything changed with her.” But as Missy’s star rises with each race, Joyce finds herself struggling to find the joy in swimming she once had. Out of the pool, we watch the two navigate more personal events like prom (Franklin) and a new relationship (Joyce). It’s a fascinating watch, one that is amplified by stunning shots and the real-life bond directors Grant Barbeito and Christo Brock made with both athletes. The audience, too, gets to make that connection as they spend almost two years—including what Franklin calls her “awkward years”— with the swimmers.

Inspiring. Enlightening. An insider’s perspective. Touch the Wall has all the things fans of sports documentaries want. It also presents precisely what Franklin hoped it would: “I think people have a very good idea that, yeah, it takes a lot of work and sacrifice to make it to your goals and achieve your dreams, but this will really give an idea of exactly what every athlete at that level and every athlete aspiring to that level does every single day. And for people to see me as me: who I am, who I’ve been, and who I’ve grown into. I’m fighting for my dreams and my goals just like everyone else. I’m the most normal and average 19-year-old sophomore in college that you can come across.” Well, maybe not that normal.

Details: Touch the Wall premieres Saturday, November 15, at 2 p.m. at the Buell Theatre. The 2014 Starz Denver Film Festival red carpet event will feature an appearance by Franklin and Joyce for a Q&A following the screening. Tickets are $15 and are expected to sell out.

Just In: Touch the Wall is playing a limited run at the Sie FilmCenter from November 28 through December 4. Find showtimes here.

Daliah Singer
Daliah Singer
Daliah Singer is an award-winning writer and editor based in Denver. You can find more of her work at