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'Ultimate Christian Wrestling' directors discuss their documentary about the unusual sport

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One wrestler picks up another by his spandex shorts, muscles bulging as he tosses him across the ring. Another dives from the top of the post. Kicks and clotheslines are exchanged until slowly the wrestlers realize their victim isn’t the enemy they thought but a long-haired man in a white robe.

The man is Jesus, come to offer salvation, and the event is not WWF but Ultimate Christian Wrestling, a one-of-a-kind combination of religion and professional wrestling. In Ultimate Christian Wrestling, directors Jae-Ho Chang and Tara Autovino follow the group’s leader Rob Adonis in his attempt to gain recognition from the mainstream Southern Baptists. Meanwhile, fellow wrestlers Billy Jack and Justin struggle with financial problems, divorce and finding a calling in life.

FilmCapsule.com’s John DeCarli sat down with Chang and Autovino for a guest post here on The Film Panel Notetaker to discuss the challenge of portraying these universal stories, these real, relatable characters that emerge in a very strange setting.

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 TFPN: How did the film begin? Did you conceive of it as a story about Ultimate Christian Wrestling, or about the lives of the characters outside the ring?

Autovino: When we were shooting, we were just shooting. We probably shot about 150 or more hours, but we had no idea if we had enough to make a movie. We started out with all of the wrestlers, meeting their families and doing interviews, but the important parts emerged as we taped more. Some of the stories became more interesting, and it was a very organic process. It’s called Ultimate Christian Wrestling, and in some ways I wish there was more wrestling, but the drama is in the stories outside of the ring. We don’t have control over that story, really, if we want to reflect honestly.

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