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Sports films hold formative relevance for both Dario and Neil, and the sports documentary as a sub-genre is the focus and inspiration for a wide-ranging discussion on our latest episode. How does cinema make sport cinematic and what is the difference, for filmmakers and audiences alike, between sports documentary films and watching sports on Television.

The episode is structured around an interview with Finlay Pretsell, a former cyclist and director of Time Trial: A Race to the End. On the surface, the film is a biographical account of the final year of cyclist David Millar, as he comes to terms with retirement after a successful but turbulent career. But more than that the film is an immersive experiment in bringing the audience into the physical and psychological experience of pro cycling. Time Trial is available on the BBC Iplayer and we highly recommend you check it out.

Discussion of Time Trial offers avenues through which to examine how cinema takes the sport out of the immediate yet reductive question of winners and losers. Dario outlines a taxonomy of sports documentaries but this is tricky as the most lauded examples of the genre transcend simple classification both in terms of form and content. The key question: how does cinema make sports cinematic is exemplified seminal films under discussion including Asif Kapadia's detailed archival biographies Senna (2010) and Diego Maradona (2019), the observational detail of Steve James' Hoop Dreams (1994) and Jørgen Leith's A Sunday in Hell (1977), and the transcendent charisma of the sports icon Muhammad Ali is captured with grand scope in When We Were Kings (Leon Gast, 1996) and through a more personal intimacy in I Am Ali (2014, Clare Lewins). Exposes of the darker side of sports are another strand with the multiple films on Lance Armstrong, the wider question of doping tackled in the Oscar-winning Icarus and the recent harrowing account of abuse in American gymnastics explored in Bonni Cohen and John Shenk's Athlete A (2019). 

Discussion of the intersection between cinema and sport on a conceptual level is no-where more apparent than in Julian Faraut's John McEnroe: In the Realm of Perfection (2018). Neil and Dario discuss how this film demonstrates that both cinema and sport push the boundaries of experience to reach the level of art. In this sense, what is essential about both art and cinema is not coherence or completeness, but moments of transcendence which offer a glimpse of something that expands human potential.

Neil also rounds up recent DVD releases from BFI and Masters of Cinema: Dementia (1955, John Parker), Sleepwalkers (1992, Mick Garris) & 976-Evil (1988, Robert Englund) and also analysed is the recent hard-hitting example of British social realism Lynn + Lucy (2019, Fyzal Boulifa)

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Music Credits:

‘Theme from The Cinematologists’

Written and produced by Gwenno Saunders. Mixed by Rhys Edwards. Drums, bass & guitar by Rhys Edwards. All synths by Gwenno Saunders. Published by Downtown Music Publishing.

 

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