Friday, February 5, 2010

Movie Review in the Seattle Times

In the final moments of "Awesome Land: Women of Dirt," two of the professional female cyclists championed by this unabashedly enthusiastic sports documentary go tearing down a winding, bumpy trail in a forest for the sheer pleasure of it. Afterward, in the waning afternoon light, they head to a beach where they disappear beneath a gathering wave because, well, it feels good.

Mountain-biking documentaries are hardly rare, yet rarely do they convey the kind of heightened experience of being alive that the women athletes in "Awesome Land" so clearly feel. Many of the cyclists shown engaging in their extreme sport are past and present champions of women's downhill racing and related competitions in dirt jumping and free riding. But, on film at least, they spend little time talking about their personal victories, preferring to celebrate their inclusion in an activity gradually gaining respect in a male-dominated field.

Names like Tammy Donahugh, Stephanie Nychka and Cierra Smith may not mean much outside of biking circles. But those athletes and other top-rated female cyclists get a lot of exposure in "Awesome Land," demonstrating considerable skills racing over tricky terrain in natural settings, as well as on synthetic courses. Most of the film is really just watching the riders go down or over course after course, which indeed gets visually monotonous but holds one's interest because of the racers' pluck and courage.

Even if one doesn't find racing particularly interesting, there is a lot to be said for watching people do what they do out of pure commitment and passion. Occasionally, one of the cyclists will talk about the future of women's mountain-bike sports, how respect and rewards will build over time as athletes push the envelope of what's possible. In the meantime, the racers aren't going to wait for that day — they're too busy enjoying their own rush.

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