The Founders


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

The Founders
"An underdog story with bite, and a hymn to the equality movements of the 20th Century."

Charlene Fisk and Carrie Schrader's documentary opens with a vintage clip of a woman taking a swing at a golf ball. She's wearing a light but clingy dress and the photography is clearly intended to make viewers appreciate her curves as she moves, but look beyond that and you can appreciate her toned muscle, the power that goes into the shot, the accuracy of her swing. In the early 1940s, the idea that anyone would want to watch women's sport was a treated as joke. A decade later and TV presenters were lasciviously stating that there were lots of reasons to watch these lovely ladies. It took many years to hammer home the message that one might want to watch them because they were good at what they did. This is the story of the women who made that happen.

The eponymous Founders were the 13 women who set up the Ladies Professional Golf Association. Only four of them remain - Louise Suggs, Shirley Spork, Marilynn Smith and Marlene Bauer Vossler - all of whom contribute to this documentary. None of them shows much sign of age-related decline, perhaps another legacy of their sporting careers, and they are all smart, articulate people. They are also distinctly modern in their attitude and outlook - people who are ahead of the social curve today and must have seemed, in their heyday, like visitors from the future. They are and were women with no time for any nonsense, women who just want to get on and do their thing.

Copy picture

It's here that the film finds its real strength. Fans of particular sports will generally enjoy films that provide insights into their history, but The Founders appeals to an audience far broader than that. It is an underdog story with bite, and a hymn to the equality movements of the 20th Century. The golfers' work is also impressive in that, unlike some other parts of the women's movement, it made room for women of colour and for lesbian and bisexual women with no fuss, supporting them in their additional struggles. Although most of this film is about the founders, it finds time for a brief look at the careers of Renee Powell and Althea Gibson, thereby situating its central narrative within the framework of something bigger.

The film mixes talking heads with archive footage, newspaper clippings and brief dramatisations of some of the childhood experiences that led to the women taking up the sport. There's not much focus on the technical side but what comes across clearly is their passion for the sport and their gradual development of character traits associated with it - patience, diligence and, in some cases, a ruthless competitive streak. Stories of bitter rivalry and of simple but impactful personality clashes sit alongside stories of friendship. The film never hammers home the oppression that the women faced and it's more powerful for this; we see that through the little things, observe their accumulation, and understand thereby how hard it must have been. Intermittently we see powerful swings, perfect putts, and we're reminded of how capable they were in their prime.

Like its subjects, The Founders is a tough little film presenting itself as something simpler and sweeter. It deserves the attention of those who will appreciate its skill.

Reviewed on: 26 Jun 2016
Share this with others on...
Story of the founders of the Ladies Professional Golf Association.
Amazon link

Director: Charlene Fisk, Carrie Schrader

Writer: Dana Lee, Carrie Schrader, Maureen Simpson

Starring: Bella Lotz, Parker Sack, Bryn Vale, Louise Suggs, Caleb Messer, Marilynn Smith, Shirley Spork, Marlene Bauer Vossler

Year: 2016

Runtime: 85 minutes

Country: US


EIFF 2016

Search database:

Related Articles:

Teed off