Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

For some documentaries it is the clever presentation (for example, 5 Days) or depth of research (Martyr Street) that makes them so compelling. For others – such as last year’s Rock The Bells and this high-energy documentary – it is simply that the subject matter is fascinating in itself.

Skipping, to be fair, does not initially sound as though it will make for a particularly engrossing documentary, but this is no child’s play. In America jumping rope is a whole lot more important than that – and this the story of how skipping got out of the schoolyard and turned into a sport. In the 1970s two separate sets of rules developed. The one most familiar to UK audiences is Double Dutch – which was started by black cop David Walker in Harlem and still continues to be a largely black-dominated code. The second is Jump Rope, begun by Caucasian Richard “Mr C” Cendali, and its enthusiasts largely reflect his colour.

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Now, almost three decades later the codes are coming together thanks to a third sport ‘fusion’ which is, basically skip-hop – all the rope skills combined with street music, dance and a pinch of the X factor. The sport evolved from Double Dutch and the top competition is held at the Apollo in New York. This documentary tracks the two teams at the top of the two codes – the Double Dutch Forces from South Carolina and the Bouncing Bulldogs from North Carolina – as they prepare for their first time at the Fusion Freestyle finals.

The result is as entertaining as it is exhilarating. There is no doubt that these kids are among the fittest there are and their dedication to their sport is incredible. Although the codes are split largely on racial lines it is interesting to see that there are several exceptions to the rule and that where they exist – in both teams – their peers are unfazed by the colour of their skin, it’s the skipping that counts.

That said, it clearly plays on the mind of the Bouncing Bulldog’s coach Ray Frederick who clearly believes Fusion has the potential to bridge the gap and make the sport “like a rainbow, because both organisations are so one-sided”.

There is nothing po-faced about this documentary, however, since it is first and foremost a celebration of the kids involved – all of whom show not only an incredible drive to want to perform at their best but also a lot of consideration for others. Tim, one of the only black kids in the BBs – and a world champion speed-skipper – candidly reveals he turned down the chance at an athletics scholarship because he believed quitting the Jump Rope team would set a bad example. “This group of kids look up to you,” he admits “I probably lost my track scholarship, but that’s all right.”

For some of the other teens, such as Antoine Cutner, the sport offers him a chance to express himself creatively. At one point this incredibly talented dancer and sportsman reveals it was “too expensive for him to audition for Juliard”, which seems a poignant shame.

The smaller children, too, show vast amounts of discipline, one, Erica, who at 11 is the youngest member of the USA Jump Rope All-Star Team, epitomises this, practicing with or without a rope and encouraging her team to greater heights. As her father puts it, she’s the “little engine that could”.

It’s clear this sport is more than a way to keep fit – since it is also helping the children to build their self-esteem. This is one of its strengths as DDF coach Joy Holman clearly believes, her only sadness being that some of them “can’t make it because they can’t afford it”.

This feature debut by Stephanie Johnes has a lot of heart. While you occasionally wish she would slow things down a little so you could take in more of the kids’ incredible skill, in many ways it is the frenetic pacing that is the film’s big appeal. Also, she cleverly avoids the ponderous pitfall of narration and lets her camera tell the stories as they are rather than resorting to any clever tricks that would only distract from the sportsmanship on display. As the day of truth dawns in New York, you’ll be rooting for all the teams to jump for their life.

Reviewed on: 18 Aug 2007
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Skip-hop extravaganza.

Director: Stephanie Johnes

Starring: Ray Fredrick, Joy Holman, Antoine Cutner, Timothy Martin, Tia Rankin, Erica Zenn

Year: 2007

Runtime: 80 minutes

Country: USA


EIFF 2007
Tribeca 2007

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