Documenting a wrestler’s olympic dream

By Andrea Llewellyn

The Sticking Place is more than just a sports film or documentary. The interactive web-based documentary, created by Canadian filmmakers Josephine Anderson and Brittany Baxter, is a personalized exploration of the life of a female freestyle wrestler who recently made the Canadian national team. Leah Callahan is the ideal candidate for a film of this nature. She is humble, spirited, principled and strong-willed — the making of a Canadian heroine.

To create the film, the team used an innovative new documentary format, where the viewers are involved in how they view the film and interact with the story. Anderson said they chose this style because of the intimate nature of the story.

“I feel like there is so much potential for the user and for viewers to engage with stories in a different way. [It’s different] than a traditional film that you can watch on the television or in a theatre,” she said. “You really get to be involved, click around, make things happen and explore the story in a way that matters to you instead of just having to follow along as the filmmaker decides.”

Callahan’s brother, who knew the filmmakers, mentioned that Baxter was interested in using the wrestling superstar as a subject for a film. The film has since changed Callahan’s life.

“It was a whirlwind from there,” she said. “I had no idea what I was getting myself into — I definitely opened up with them and was really honest. In October, I had to deal with a lot, just going into Olympic trials knowing that there is a movie being made about me. Whether I won or not was going to be a big part of it.”

The two filmmakers began preparing for the film in April and were filming by June.

“We did a bunch of summer shooting in Callahan’s home town, MacKenzie, British Columbia, and we went over to Calgary and filmed her there as well. So we filmed actually all over Western Canada,” Anderson explained.

Because Callahan began to become comfortable with Baxter and Anderson, she felt more at ease with the filming process.

“The process was really cool because I could be as open as they needed me to be, so I don’t think anything will be misrepresented,” said Callahan. “The girls [Baxter and Anderson] were pretty discrete at Olympic trials. It wasn’t like there was a big film crew around me.”

Callahan still felt the film added external pressure that worried her on top of the challenges she faced leading up to trials in Winnipeg last Dec. 15-18. But looking back on it, she felt the film allowed her to overcome those pressures in a different way, like journaling, that ended up benefiting her in the long run.

“It was kind of good because I dealt with all that external pressure with my sport psychologist, which I think really helped my preparation a lot,” she said. “There were some serious obstacles in the last four months leading up to trials that I maybe wouldn’t have dealt with as fully, or even as openly if the film wasn’t being made about me.”

By December, Callahan had overcome the obstacles and focused entirely on Olympic trials. Baxter and Anderson knew there was a risk that Callahan might lose the Canadian Olympic trials, but they were willing to take that chance.

“We really thought that her story was so compelling that it didn’t really matter if she won or if she lost, that people would still be interested in her story and her journey,” Baxter expressed.

Callahan bested Ohenewa Akuffo, 10-time national champion, and qualified for the 2012 Olympics in London, England.

“Being part of and witnessing that journey took away a lot of the risks because we saw her change and unfold before our eyes,” said Baxter.

The Sticking Place was made possible because of the financial risks taken by Anderson and Baxter. The duo has had to pay for flights to film all over Western Canada at tournaments and at the University of Calgary, the home of Callahan’s training centre. Luckily, they have had generous support with an initial Filmmakers Assistance Program grant from the National Film Board of Canada. The team was further funded by Kickstarter, the online pledge system. This fall, they finished a funding drive and raised $20,000 to help with the costs incurred with building a professional website.

“We were pretty excited initially and now it is basically [trying to find] a way to build the community and fundraise at the same time,” Baxter explained. “Kickstarter is great in terms of trying to help you out. We were featured on a couple of their recommended pages throughout the process of our fundraising campaign.”

To prepare for the fundraising, they filmed videos promoting the film and bringing a taste of Callahan’s story to life in order to prove that although these 25-year-old filmmakers are young, they are serious and very capable.

“People were willing to step it up and really come behind the film to support it because they could tell from the videos that [Callahan’s] story was extremely meaningful and that it would matter to them,” said Anderson. “They believed in the quality of our work.”

The Sticking Place will be finished in June this year and will be featured at Interactive Film Festivals. The filmmaking duo is also looking into a web app that will allow viewers to watch the film on various devices.

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