Lake District Ice winter 2022

ShAFF: Award-winning filmmaker Hannah Maia on ‘Chilly Dipper’ – a film exploring lockdown, ice baths and friendship

Multi-award-winning adventure filmmaker Hannah Maia discusses her new film exploring lockdown anxiety, postpartum rage, ice baths and a special friendship from overseas.

Tell us a bit about yourself and how you got into filmmaking?  
I run my own business, Maia Media, which I’ve been doing since about 2008. I have an MA in Visual Anthropology and Ethnographic Filmmaking, which I got about the same time GoPro released its first camera. I was into mountain biking and other outdoor activities, so I just started filming all my adventures. This led to one of the first films I made for ShAFF, around 2007, using a DIY cable cam to shoot a mountain biker going down ‘The Beast’ in the Peak District. So, I continued making my own films, always keeping that passion for storytelling going.

“I just started filming all my adventures. This led to one of the first films I made for ShAFF, around 2007…”

When did the first swimming film come around?
That was My Big White Thighs and Me, which actually won The Best Film Gold Award at ShAFF in 2018, and it was about turning down the volume on the demands of the world, self-body image and celebrating the quiet heroism of the female life; it was about miscarriage and healing and just learning to love myself again. Through that, I set myself a goal of swimming once a month for a year and it started off my love of cold water. I think there’s something about taking yourself out of your comfort zone so much; when you come out, you’re incredibly chuffed with yourself and a bit high on life.

This moves us onto Chilly Dipper, your film showing at ShAFF next month. It covers that strange period during lockdown and how cold-water bathing helped you during a particularly difficult time.
Yeah, at first it wasn’t necessarily going to be a film. But I am a filmmaker, so I thought I should capture these snippets, and maybe it’d be fun for me and my son to look back at in years to come. So, to begin with, it was just about that – a bit of a home movie, mostly on my iPhone. I started to think about getting myself a cold-water tub and then this special friendship was made. It became evident to me that this could be a film.

Chilly Dipper – Trailer from Maia Media on Vimeo.

Tell us a bit about this relationship with Kath, who plays a big role in the film.
I began seeing posts Instagram posts from a lady called Kath living in Vermont (@redhotchillydippers). There were incredible videos of her in these icy lakes over there and I began living vicariously through her. We interacted a little bit and that lead to exchanging emails. By the following February, I was feeling down with what I came to realise was some postpartum depression and rage. I knew I needed some sort of new fix in my life, and I know it [cold water immersion] has helped me before, so I treated myself to a wooden tub and started a routine.

How did that routine help you during these difficult moments?
It’s tricky to really understand, but I think it gives your nervous system almost a bit of a reset. You can sort of feel the anxiety being sucked out of your chest and it gives you a moment where you can’t feel anything else because you’re psyching yourself up, then you’re in and all your senses – skin, fingertips, everything – are feeling it. You can’t think about anything else, so it’s a bit like meditation. As the film develops, it explores a few different themes: postpartum rage, the difficulties of having a little one during the pandemic, how social media can actually be inspiring and helpful at times, and, more generally, I think it reflects on that weird time we all went through, the small ways we tried to keep mentally and physically healthy.

Chilly Dipper can be viewed at ShAFF as part of the Wild Swim and Water Films session on 5th March. Follow @maiamedia for more of Hannah’s work.

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