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BC wrestler Leah Callahan's journey to the London Olympics

The Sticking Place, an interactive documentary, explores the journey of elite athlete, Leah Callahan, a freestyle wrestler with a dream to compete in the 2012 Olympic Games.

Leah Callahan, a freestyle wrestler with a dream to compete in the 2012 Olympics
Leah Callahan (back), a freestyle wrestler with a dream to compete in the 2012 Olympic Games. Photo from The Baltimore Sun.

In 2011, Vancouver filmmakers Josephine Anderson and Brittany Baxter knew they were watching something special when they saw a young, tough young female wrestler up against the 10-time national champion Ohenewa Akuffo at last year's Canadian Wrestling Championship. Despite the odds against her, the woman fought hard, with such extraordinary focus that she came within inches of defeating Akuffo.

That young wrestler was Leah Callahan, 24 year-old born in Newfoundland but raised in Mackenzie, BC. The filmmakers were stunned by her intensity. 

Even though she didn't win that match, Callahan was qualified for the Olympic Team. She started a journey to the London Olympics, and Anderson and Baxter of Moosestash Films –  inspired by her “fearless self-awareness” — decided to join her. For one year, a camera followed Callahan’s steps wherever she went – Calgary, Prince George, Mackenzie and Winnipeg,  resulting in a unique documentary film called The Sticking Place.

Anderson and Baxter noticed how Callahan persevered day in and day out, shaping her life to fit and balance the huge challenges of an Olympic-sized dream, putting stress on every other corner of her life to pursue excellence in this sport.

“Why would someone do something like this?” they filmmakers wondered, catching Callahan's dedication on camera. Through the film, Baxter and Anderson wanted to show others why Callahan inspired them.

A rebel dreamer

The filmmakers described Callahan as a “thoughtful, analytical and critical person". 

“She questions everything she is given, all the decisions by her coaches, the methods of training. This makes her totally compelling,”  Anderson said. 

The Sticking Place is more than just about wrestling, and far from a WWE show – an American entertainment company broadcasting TV wrestling with overacted punches and kicks or classic Olympic superstar story.

Anderson said the story was about pursuing one's dreams in a thoughtful way, to be a "rebel dreamer", so to speak. 

As the protagonist of the film, Callahan said  that she doesn’t feel special for being an Olympic wrestler. For her, everyone is on their own personal journey, trying to achieve immense goals and making the best effort to realize them.

“I believe that we all have Olympic-sized dreams and goals and hit the same obstacles," she told the Vancouver Observer.  

"My dream just happened to be the Olympics, which is put on a giant stage in front of the whole world, but day to day I see athletes, students, friends and family making big things happen in their lives and conquer the big obstacles that come with that,” Callahan said.

“I really hope people can see that Olympians are very real people and if they can work hard to accomplish their dreams and goals it means everyone else can do the same in their venue of choice,” she added.

Like in a wrestling match, in order to achieve  personal goals, people need a place to grip. Then they keep working to increase the strength and fight the obstacles -- that is the origin of the film's name, The Sticking Place

“Wrestling is one of the times when (Callahan) is able to feel that way,” Anderson said. “When she is in the match, it's a really intense experience, being totally in the moment and not over-thinking.”

“Through the ups and downs of her doubt, elation, breakdowns and revelations, Leah’s journey becomes an invitation for each of us to consider who we are, and who we want to be,” Baxter said.

A film to everyone from everywhere

The filmmakers wanted to tell Callahan’s story through as many people as possible. The Sticking Place is an imaginative, interactive online documentary film. Unlike a film in a theatre or on TV, this film will be presented on a website as a series of screens. 

“The idea is to make it free for everyone to see. Anyone anywhere in the world with a decent internet connection could watch the documentary for free,” Baxter said.  

The documentary will be launched in their blog by mid June this year – filmmakers aim for it to be on June 27. Meanwhile, they posted teaser videos, updates from the directors in their blog for audiences to get a taste of what's to come. 

In order to fund their project, Anderson and Baxter sought independent funding through Kickstarter campaign, and have so far managed to raise $21,000. They have also received economic support from the National Film Board of Canada. Now, they are looking to raise a more money through sponsorship in order to manage the ongoing costs of post-production and long-term web hosting. (donations can be made clicking on the site via PayPal. )

Bonus segment: the London Olympics

Even if the documentary is ready to be launched in less than a month, filmmakers have prepared a bonus track on Callahan’s last step in her journey to the London Olympics.

“We think it's really important to be able to go to London and see how she’s preparing and talk to her about what’s happening,” Anderson and Baxter said. “A lot of the time, when we see the Olympics we tend to see in the news the competition, but we never get to see how athletes live that event as a personal experience. We tend to see them as an athletic machine.”  

The filmmakers plan to create a segment about Callahan in London and add it as an appendix to the website.

“I really hope people can see that Olympians are very real people and if they can work hard to accomplish their dreams and goals it means everyone else can do the same in their venue of choice,” Callahan said.   

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