CAROLINE ROWLAND talks to Carlie Newman about directing FIRST: THE OFFICIAL FILM OF THE 2012 OLYMPIC GAMES
Bubbling into her interview with me, Caroline Rowland is still enthusiastic about the film she has directed and the events leading up to it. She is excited, too, about the success of the London 2012 Olympic Games. Caroline was pleased that she was given the Rights from the IOC to make the official Olympics film. Earlier she had made two promotional short films which were shown at Singapore and substantially helped London in its bid to be the host city. Caroline’s films won 26 Awards. She is fascinated by the idea of inspiring young people from all around the world to participate in sport. She decided that her film would not be just a record of the Games themselves but show the ambitions of first time Olympians and thus get a feeling of what the Olympics in London in 2012 was all about. She loves having a story where she can get to its heart.
One of the main difficulties was choosing the 12 Olympians to star in the film. Through research, Caroline found that there were 4,600 who looked as though they were going to qualify for the Olympics 2012. The cast was aged 17 to 25, all competing in the Olympic Games for the first time. A large number went out of the original list because they didn’t qualify. She chose the final cast by getting someone from each of the five continents, then by their back story and how challenging or funny these stories were and finally by how they would get access to the athletes. She filmed 16 but two lobbied hard for women’s boxing to be included and there was the lead story – Katie Taylor – and Queen Underwood in support.
Caroline visited all the countries six weeks before the Games; access to all the athletes was good and they all wanted to participate. Their culture had an effect on how much time Caroline was given: some allowed half a day but ended up spending much more time and all were generous in giving their time. David Rudisha spent two days in the end. Caroline couldn’t talk to them during the actual competitions.
There wasn’t a separate narrator but the athletes’ stories, which were recorded beforehand, provided the narration. Laura Trott was interviewed immediately after her event, but most of the others spoke later. Laura virtually provides a commentary to her own winning event, the Omnium of the Women’s Track cycling. The cutoff point was the last day of the Games. Caroline wanted this immediacy as she didn’t want them to contemplate their results. She was much more interested in their ambition. Filming bits of Press Conferences or dinners reflected the winners or losers fresh from their event. The vast majority were shown while their aspiration was at its strongest.
She found all the competitors delightful to work with; they were all very different young people. She told me that she “fell a little bit in love with all of them.” Caroline was able to spend time with them during the filming of the conversations and found a genuine mutual interest. Hardly any translators were used. They had the time of their lives when training for the most important event after four years of hard training…often to spend only one hour or less (some lasted 3 minutes!) in the actual competition. There is extreme intensity in the lead-up. This entire crop can now go on to Rio if they choose and are prepared to continue striving to be the best.
Caroline was a swimmer in the past and is still interested in doing a number of sporting activities including horses, skiing, running and, of course, swimming. I wondered which venue she had most enjoyed and she replied that the velodrome was incredible. She loved filming the BMX event, too, and also found the swimming event in which Chad le Clos beat Michael Phelps “wonderful.” The precision that went into the boxing made the Women’s Boxing fascinating to watch. Although a number of other sporting stars make appearances as opponents of the main cast, the film is concerned only with the Olympic Games not the Paralympics.
I mentioned that I found the music intrusive so that at times it was difficult to understand the speakers. Caroline believes that I watched a screener sent out before the final mix of the film. The film was delivered only 84 days after the end of the Games.
She found that unlike a fictional story, this documentary was decided by the outcome, it was not up to the director to decide what happens! Roughly half the competitors chosen won and half lost.
Having finished this film, on which she is producer as well as director, Caroline is now working on a feature documentary on the New York Cosmos, an American soccer club based in New York City and its suburbs. The film deals with its revival after it virtually disappeared. Her dream idea, however, is to make a romantic comedy.