Niche Communities: Vying to Win in Quirky Competitions

This week’s films all feature quirky characters in unconventional competitions. Just like the characters in this week’s feature Best in Show, these shorts all depict people who are unique, determined and proud. Their enthusiasm for their respective competitions are infectious and you’ll find yourself rooting for them, too. Enter the cut-throat world of pottery making in Pottery Wars, experience how a cowboy boot can convey a social message in Bootwmn, and engage with the showmanship of choreographed swimming in Sink or Swim.

Here we discuss these niche communities with filmmakers Amalie Atkins, Paige Gratland, and Michelle Swallow - directors of Sink or Swim, Bootwmn, and Pottery Wars, respectively.

CPFF: This year's Christie Pits Film Festival programme is titled Eyes on the Prize. The July 23rd programme depicts some decidedly unconventional forms of competition (real and fictional). What do you think your film has to say about competition and the drive to win?

AA: Sink or Swim is about the teamwork of ordinary women and the desire to create something in an unusual setting. The women are all artists who trained to become synchronized swimmers and the film emphasizes their showmanship rather than highly polished choreography. Most of the population is left out when it comes to competitive sport or dance. I admire everyday displays of courage- like the jovial elderly gentleman playing his accordion with gusto at farmers market every Saturday. This kind of courage seems to be born out of a desire to live in the moment and make the best out of current circumstances and skill. Specific gestures and actions build niche communities where individuals or groups decide on their own markers of achievement. Performing takes courage but the kind of courage almost anyone could muster up on occasion.

PG: Initially Sam [McWilliams, the co-director of Bootwmn] and I were reluctant to enter the contest, since we were new to boot making and already stood out as first time boot makers, not to mention that we are Northerners, women, and queer, and that we created a Gay-themed cowboy boot. We thought those were a lot of buttons to push at The Wichita Falls Boot and Saddle Makers Round Up in Texas. But Deana [our mentor] sweetly persuaded us, and in the end we thought at least we would have a good story to tell.

MS: Pottery Wars, like other film classics, such as Chariots of Fire, is all about the fierce competitive drive [of humans]. There is nothing like an amateur pottery sale to really bring that out in people.

CPFF: Your film is paired with the comedic classic Best in Show and other independent Canadian shorts as part of an evening of loveable outsiders and quirky competitions. Are you a Christopher Guest fan? What do you think of this pairing?

PG: We are big fans, and often felt like we were in a Christopher Guest film on this adventure, talking to burly men about how high the heels of their boots were or how pretty their stitches! And now we sound like one of the desperately earnest and weirdly passionate characters we met, explaining the genealogy and mythology of this dying craft. Of the remaining 250 custom cowboy boot makers in North America, there are only a handful of women, including our mentor Deana McGuffin, who learned her skills from her father, who learned from his father, who opened his shop in 1907. I got so caught up with everything that was going on - I even did a pageant wave when we got called up to the stage, I couldn't help myself. So the pairing is very fitting. An "evening of loveable outsiders and quirky competitions" sounds like perfect company.

MS: I love Christopher Guest films! You can laugh at and relate to so much of the humour. I am so honoured to have Pottery Wars paired with Best in Show. I think the pairing is perfect. Noah in Pottery Wars is basically the real life version of Meg Swan in Best in Show.

CPFF: What are your favourite movies about competition and rivalry?

MS: Strictly Ballroom has so much going for it - quirky characters, ridiculous costumes, dancing and Australian accents! I also love the best friends speech scene in Bridesmaids and the battle of the wits scene in the Princess Bride. My guilty pleasure is all dance competitions. I will just never get sick of a dance off!

PG: To name a few: A Man named Pearl, Blue Crush, Mad Hot Ballroom, Paris is Burning, Personal Best, Pumping Iron 2: The Women and They Shoot Horses Don't They?

AA: For physical comedy: Rumba (dance competition) and L'Iceberg (the walk-in freezer scene!!); for winning against all odds: Wadjda by Haifaa Al-Mansour (a young girl winning a bike) and Children of Heaven by Majid Majidi (winning shoes); and finally, for sibling rivalry: The Darjeeling Limited by Wes Anderson and Boy by Taika Waititi.


Pottery Wars, Bootwmn and Sink or Swim screen alongside Best in Show at Christie Pits Film Festival on July 23rd, 2017.