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Film Review – The Will to Fly

3 min read

This commendable Australian documentary is the first feature length offering from co-directors Leo Baker and Katie Bennie Bender. It takes us into the world of aerial skiing and focuses on the life and career of Olympic champion Lydia Lassila. The film charts her meteoric rise, heartbreaking falls and overriding determination to succeed in one of the toughest sporting disciplines in the world. The film builds to an enthralling climax at the 2014 Olympic games in Sochi where Lydia attempts to become the first female athlete in history to perform the quadruple twisting, triple somersault on skis. The film covers a lot of ground in its 99 minute run time, utilising archival footage to tell Lydia’s back-story, before taking a more intimate cinéma vérité approach to focus on Lydia and her family in the latter stages of her career. Lydia won a gold medal and broke the world record at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver. Despite this resounding success she is still driven by the desire to perform an acrobatic manoeuvre that no female has ever achieved and for that to become her ultimate legacy.

The Will to Fly still

Lydia’s story is undoubtedly astounding and inspirational, it’s just a pity that it is told here in such a static and conventional manner. The film suffers from a join-the-dots structure and plodding direction. There’s drama at it’s heart. Horrendous injuries, rivalries with team mates Alisa Camplin and Jacqui Cooper, as well as the emerging threat from China’s competitors are all interesting asides which are never given enough gravitas to be truly compelling. The lack of decent training facilities in Australia for the skiers is another issue raised that would have benefited from further exploration. The film has most success when it focuses on Lydia’s family life, particularly the manner in which she incorporates motherhood into her gruelling training schedule. Lydia’s 2 year old son Kai is an entertaining screen presence, the scenes between mother and child are endearing, including one emotional goodbye at the airport which tugs at the old heartstrings. You get a sense of the strain that the will to succeed has on her psychological state and personal relationships, but these issues are not explored in much depth. Ultimately, the film is an inspiration piece, aimed at on showing triumph over adversity ahead of anything more complex or probing. Producer and co-Director Katie Bender was previously a gymnast and trained under Lydia. She obviously has great admiration for her subject and puts Lydia up on a pedestal throughout. Any cracks in character are papered over. The result is a film which is ultimately too polite and in awe of its subject to be truly engaging.

Despite the gripes, there’s plenty of good things here. It’s refreshing to see a sports film which puts the spotlight squarely on female competitors and to have such a strong individual at its core. Lydia is a worthy role model and her quest to rise against the odds to achieve her goals is truly inspiring. Some of the footage of the aerial skiing is beautiful to behold and looks great on the big screen. It’s a solid, ambitious and diverting piece of work, but the execution is flawed and like Lydia after some of her less successful jumps, occasionally falls flat on its face.