Emily Greenwood creates what she would call ‘intelligent mainstream’, making films that capture her audience in the most original way. Her latest film, screened at June’s Reel Women event, encapsulates that motive completely.
Her striking and challenging short film COLD WARRIOR is set in Romania in 1980, at the height of sporting competition and government tension. Ana (Eloise Littell) is a young gymnast who starts to doubt her dream of becoming a world class champion when she grows suspicious of her coach Teodor (Laurence Mitchell), and his involvement with a government doping plan. He is prepared to compromise Ana’s health and happiness for her to win: in order to take back her freedom, she must be defiant. We follow Ana as she begins to realise what she must do and who she must become.
It’s hard to believe that abortion doping – inducing pregnancy to trigger performance-boosting hormones, and then aborting the baby – really happens. “I couldn’t believe that a person could turn to such extremes to get an advantage in sport,” says Emily. “But after looking further into the politics behind sport, especially during the Cold War era, it became more believable. I started to realise how important gymnasts were to their country. They were ‘worker gymnasts’. Their job description: to win Gold for the country. They were living a sports revolution and those girls were on the front line winning Gold for their country!”
Emily was inspired by true stories from the Russian press. The stories were hard to find, and very shocking. An unnamed former Soviet coach said that girls who didn’t have boyfriends were forced to sleep with their coaches until they got pregnant. There was also an Olympic sports shooter who explained that she was persuaded by a national chief physician that pregnancy would ensure a “150% guarantee of victory”.
…a haunting, almost ethereal and tender dance in 19 minutes…
“I literally immersed myself in anything and everything to do with abortion doping. I read everything from gymnasts’ and coach biographies, to books about eastern European politics, sports doping and the relationship between sport and politics. Researching abortion doping specifically was really hard, but the Wellington Films producers sacrificed a huge amount of time trying to locate people who might have been associated with the topic.”
Like every good independent film, difficulties were encountered; especially when you’re setting it in a different country and over 30 years ago. “During script development, one major decision for me was choosing where to set the film. East Germany would have been an obvious choice, but after reading a lot about Ceausescu’s regime, Romania felt right. Shooting in Nottingham was challenging, however we did manage to find some incredibly authentic looking buildings, thanks to Wellington’s exhaustive location scouting!
Achieving the grandeur of the final competition scene was possibly the biggest challenge. We had a small shooting space and a bus full of extras to represent a full Olympic stadium and we had far too little time. What we ended up with, particularly the final shots, was a far cry from what I had visualised, but considering what we had at our disposal, we pulled it off very well. I know how little was actually there on the day, but I don’t think that comes across on screen. That scene is a good example of how we all pulled together to make the impossible, possible! To say more would give too much away but it must be said that this is a poised juxtaposition of delicate and tenacious storytelling.This dark tale also adopts a wonderful vintage colouring in its cinematography complimented beautifully by the musical score.
Greenwood doesn’t hide the truth, rather she has choreographed a haunting, almost ethereal and tender dance in 19 minutes. It has plenty of bite that unlike a lot of recent shorts, dares to tell a story in a very honest and brutal way, but it does not lose any artistic tendencies. However, when delivering something to a public domain, there will always be things that when creating you wish you had done differently; If Emily were to go back and do it all over again, would she change anything? “Considering the schedule and budget, I genuinely think we did the best we could,” she says. “Perhaps I would have looked into the possibility of shooting in Romania in original language, I don’t think our budget would have allowed it though. The language was always going to be a difficult decision and I think original language versus accents will always divide people.”
So far COLD WARRIOR has picked up six official selections from film festivals worldwide and stands as a fantastic example of what happens when women are in the director’s chair. This is an audacious film that stands out far from the crowd and Emily Greenwood is certainly one to watch.