Since the inception of the Winter Olympic Games in 1924 ski jumping has been one of the original disciplines to be featured in this athletic event. It is perhaps the knowledge of this legacy that produces an uneasy sentiment when one learns that women had not been allowed to participate in this sport until this year’s games in Sochi, Russia. The fact that in 2014 sexism has any power in the decision making of an international organization like the IOC is downright infuriating, even more so when this is placed in the context of all those women who throughout the years were prevented from participating. Almost an entire century went by before justice was served. Filmmaker Cara Perlman knows about the subject from a very unique perspective, her documentary 110% followed the U.S. Women Ski Jumping team during the 3 years leading up to the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. Their personal struggles, the conflicts they experienced as a group, and the politics surrounding their struggle while trying to fight for their sport’s inclusion in games are all showcased in Perlman’s insightful film. The director talked to us about the process, her relationship with the girls, and the relevance of this achievement for the future of the sport.
Aguilar: How did you first get involved with the team, and the project in general? Was this a subject that always intrigued you ?
Perlman: I made a small film in the early 2000s about a young girl and two boys who were ski jumping in Lake Placid, which is where the Olympic games took place in the late 70s. I thought, “This is a great sport” so I decided to make a small film, then ESPN picked it up, an that was kind of great, it was really good. Then in 2006 I was watching TV and I saw the girls in the Torino Olympics. The girls were being interviewed about why they were not in the Olympics. I wrote a letter to the head of the Women Ski Jumping Marketing and he said, “Please make a movie” and he sent me reels of material and then I started. I started in the spring of 2006 and I ended by the end of 2009.
Aguilar: Why would you say it took so incredibly long for Women Ski Jumping to be recognized as a legitimate sport to be included in the Olympics?
Perlman: I think that it’s politics. The Olympics are run by the International Olympic Committee, it is a very old-fashioned, European, patriarchal institution and they did not want anyone telling them what they should do. They decide, they have it all figured out, whether they are going to do something or not let you do it. I think they are still reluctant. It is a European sport and the Americans were cleaning up, and they didn’t want that. They wanted to make it so that the Europeans were competitive. They didn’t let them jump in Vancouver, which is when I was around, and that was a shame because that was a really good connection for the Canadians and the Americans who were both jumping really well at the time.
Aguilar: It is baffling that in this day and age women are still having difficulties getting support and being recognized as talented athletes, why do you think that is?
Perlman: My film is about that, but it is also about some other things. Girls are still struggling with being out in the world, and they don’t have it all together. They, on one hand need the opportunity to get it together, and on the other hand they are not as developed as the guys, so where do you go with that? That is true out in the world in so many ways. But also people can’t develop if you don’t give them a shot, an opportunity. I think these girls in a sense were the Olympic team that never was. They went through hell and high water when I was around them, but they stock to it, and I think that is the key. You just have to stick in there if you are an underdog until you can shake the tree.
Aguilar: Given that you followed them for a long period of time how did your relationship with the girls developed?
Perlman: It developed in a lot of different ways. I think it was very much a group thing, because I didn’t single anybody out as the important person. I tried to make it a team story, which was something I was very interested in – the dynamics of a team. Whether you are the best person on it, the worse person on it, how do you function in your group? How do you use the other people in the group to keep yourself bolstered or feel alienated? With me, sometimes they loved me, and sometimes I was their scapegoat, and they all hated me [Laughs] depending on what was going on. I think in the end I show them a their worse, and they wanted to be seen probably in more heroic terms. I think I showed them in both ways.
Aguilar: Throughout the film we see the team is forced to deal with a whole set of situations outside of the sport itself: politics, entering adulthood, self-doubt, and personal relationships. How do you think the inclusion of the sport in the Vancouver Olympics would have changed the film and their lives?
Perlman: Yeah I think if they had been in Vancouver they would have seen the fruits of their labor. I think there was some serious cynicism after that. The first wave of girls that made ski jumping really a force didn’t get their shot. Lindsay and Jessica will jump, but Sarah is who will enjoy the reward, that’s the way life is. She came in much later, she is part of the next generation. She is the one who is going to get all the sponsorships and the high profile. Lindsay and Jessica will make the history books, and that’s the way it is.
Aguilar: Are you following the current team, which will be the first one ever to participate at the Olympics?
Perlman: Yeah for sure. I’m friends with some people involved there because I’ve known them for so long, so I’m being kept up to date. I think it is a big deal! They worked very hard for it. They traveled constantly. They had three coaches in 3 and half years. They had conflicts, they had injuries, and they were stock with each other all the time whatever they went. It’s a lot.
Aguilar: You titled the film 110%, is this referring to the fact that these girls, being women, had to prove themselves and work even harder than the men? Not only 100% but push themselves even further than that.
Perlman: Sure. Especially in this particular sport, it’s a small sport. It has always been passed down from the grandfather to the father, then to the son, and it was very unpopulated with any women for quite a long time. A few women ski jumped here and there since the 1920s, but not in a very serious way. They really had to break ground, even though it is so old –fashioned. In terms of feminist issues we have traveled a long way, but this particular sport is very old-fashioned because it was so male-nominated. Plus, the American men are not that good at ski jumping. The women were knocking the s**t out of them in terms of getting press and being high on the polls, so the American men were pretty jealous.
Aguilar: After the cycle with this film comes to an end now that the issue is partially resolved and woman can now participate in the Olympics, what is next for you? What kind of projects are pursuing?
I’m working on a new project, it’s a feature narrative is not a doc but it is based on a true story. It’s about a woman and two men who are Buddhist, and
it is a story about Buddhism itself and passion. I’m in it now!
The film is available in all major VOD platforms, you can learn more and buy the film HERE