Focus on Festivals

Hot Docs 2013: Last Woman Standing

Ariane Fortin sparring / Courtesy Hot Docs

When it was announced that the 2012 Olympics would include women’s boxing for the first time in history the joy echoing around the world evoked entirely different emotions from Mary Spencer of Windsor and Ariane Fortin from Montreal. Considered by many to be the world’s top female boxers in their weight class, they have also been the best of friends since meeting in the sport when they were 19. The Olympic news throws them into the competition of their lives—against each other, knowing only one can represent her country.

It also provided the opportunity for collaboration by two other women, Juliet Lammers and Lorraine Price. Together, they took cameras on the road to create Last Woman Standing, the historic story of Canada’s two top-ranked female boxers duking it out for a solo spot at the Olympics.

Windsor is the auto capital of Canada, and Mary Spencer’s Olympic dream is fuelled by her city’s hometown pride. She secures a well-known coach who postpones his retirement for her, gains the enthusiastic backing of a small diner and finds an auto industry sponsor. It’s as if the whole town is already making the three-time world champ of women’s boxing their own personal Olympic hero.

In Montreal, the scene is much quieter for two-time world champ Fortin. She shows fire in securing her coach but has only his guidance, her will and an encouraging family to root her along to her lifelong Olympic dream.

The filmmakers cover the boxing action with a sure hand, and they gain the trust of both athletes to gather close-up behind-the-scenes profiles. The story begins as an engaging timeline of the year and a half they spend in intense training and at boxing competitions that leads to the final bout at the Women’s Nationals, with an outcome that will determine which one of the two represents Canada at the Olympics.

After the fierce rivalry of the final match has settled, one athlete starts to lose her drive while the other goes in the opposite direction, becoming pumped to the extreme, and even cutting her ties with Sports Canada to try representing a different country for her shot at the gold. The young filmmakers don’t back down from the athletes’ vulnerabilities. Instead they proficiently probe the psychological edge that top athletes must maintain in order to win, and the downsides that can happen when that critical focus wanes.

With the dust of the Olympics settled, Spencer and Fortin are free to decide if they wish to rekindle their friendship. Nothing is guaranteed in sports competitions, or with keeping friends, even when the best efforts are put forward. However, the inaugural Olympic competition is behind them and so is this entertaining and informative doc by a new filmmaking duo.

Click here for POV’s full list of Hot Docs previews.

Screenings:
Fri, Apr 26 6:30 PM
TIFF Bell Lightbox 3

Sun, Apr 28 12:30 PM
Bloor Hot Docs Cinema

Fri, May 3 1:30 PM
TIFF Bell Lightbox 2

Janis Cole holds an MFA in Documentary Media from Ryerson University. She is a professor at OCAD University, and her award-winning documentaries include Calling the Shots, about the working lives of women filmmakers.

View all articles by Janis Cole »