Julie Wyman has crafted an elegant film on three-time Olympic weightlifter Cheryl Haworth. The University of California’s Institute for Research in the Arts calls it an “experimental documentary film,” but to me it’s just a very well honed telling of an amazing story about an extraordinary woman. That’s all. Just that.
I saw Strong! tonight here in Steamboat Springs, Colorado— one of only 100 or so community screenings that get the jump on the film’s July 26 premiere on PBS. Our small crowd filled the screening room with multiple oohs and aahs throughout the film’s 60 minutes. Volunteering to stack chairs afterward I felt inspired to see how many I could lift at once. Then a little chiropractor on my shoulder thought better of it.
Cheryl Haworth is a documentarian’s dream: a true character who appears to need no screenwriter’s embellishment. She comes across with warm humor and genuine determination. Her determination may not seem unusual for those who follow great athletes, but her humanity is something special. Or, as a framed inspirational quote in my office might say, “you are unique, just like everybody else.” But seriously, nowadays if we’re going to truly love a hero, they kind of need to be one of us, right?
The film depicts Cheryl as vulnerable as equally as she is a go-getter, and yet it all somehow avoids cliché (better than I can seem to manage in this review). Her story is a home run, a slam dunk, a sure thing (just to beat the dead cliché a little more). But what really fascinated me about the movie was the creative documentary techniques Julie Wyman employed.
Generally not one with qualms about revealing spoilers about forthcoming films, I’m actually loath to reveal too many of Julie’s creative storytelling mechanisms as they really made the experience for me. And besides, I’ll probably steal some of them for my own future documentaries.
Let me at least say that Julie and her team really thought this film through and invested some powerful inspiration into its telling. A very brief educational segment explained weightlifting more succinctly and appealingly than anything I’ve ever seen. The visual variety throughout the film, including what I can only describe as a love scene— or at least highly sensual foreplay— with a gold 1979 Lincoln Continental Mark V, really carries viewers eagerly through the one-hour experience.
See Strong! Playing on PBS in July and in various other lucky communities till then.
Top left photo by Julie Wyman – Haworth breaks PanAmerican record at the 2005 Pan American Championships, lifting 161 kg (352 pounds)
Top right photo by Anne Etheridge – Cheryl poses for media after making the 2008 Olympic Team at the Team Trials in Atlanta
Lower photo by Paul Schilens – Haworth at the bar