When 1,087 people pledged $113,534 to back big mountain skier Lynsey Dyer’s all-female ski film, Pretty Faces on Kickstarter last year, the crowdfunding site became the place to show we care about women’s sports. Now those same fans will be able to back an arguably more ambitious film that seeks to capture the essence of 27 adventure sports through an all-female cast of Olympians, and both world and national champions.
“The Kickstarter is to see if people are legitimately interested,” says Ottowa-based filmmaker Dave McMahon. It’s a passion project, and he and his partner, Lise Meloche, have spent more than two years and $200,000 to shoot an IMAX-quality digital film with grand cinematic shots of women athletes. “The Kickstarter money will be used as part of a wider campaign to promote women’s participation in outdoor sports,” McMahon says. “That includes getting the film in theatres, and putting on sports clinics where we can show the movie.”
Like Dyer, McMahon and Meloche note, a lot of young women don’t continue with sports when they get to their teens. “My daughter, who’s now 25, came up through a competitive cross-country ski program and we saw that 90 percent of the girls were quitting after 16,” McMahon says. “We wanted to show that you can be 30-something, have a job, a family, a career, education, and be successful at athletics.”
The resulting 90-minute movie, Oxygen, is more art house film than sports porn or documentary. It features vintage footage juxtaposed against modern footage of 77 elite athletes, including Canadian cycling champion and anesthesiologist, Dr. Veronique Fortin, and Canadian ultrarunning champ and podiatrist, Dr. Annie Jean. “We didn’t want 19-year old prodigies,” McMahon says. “We wanted athletes who are busy, who have other jobs and lives and are trying to find some balance.”
Canadian Forces engineer and cross-country runner C.J. Best narrates the film—lightly. “There’s elegance, there’s beauty, and an undertone of empowerment, but it’s really not in your face,” McMahon says. Think gorgeous footage of women running a track workout with beautiful technique fading into a scene of those women running with their kids. “We want people to come away and make up their own mind as to what it means—without thinking too hard. We want them to come away being inspired.”
Perhaps no pair was more suited to tackle such an ambitious film than McMahon and Meloche. Meloche, 55, is a two-time Olympic biathlete, seven-time world cup medalist in biathlon, a sprint kayaker, and trail runner. McMahon, 51, was once ranked third in the world for summer biathlon, was a professional figure skater, has represented Canada in snowshoeing, biathlon, and cross-country skiing, and is a four-time eastern Canadian Mountain running Champion. The two run Natural Fitness Lab, Canada’s largest cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and trail running club with more than 1,000 members. In short, they have a deep understanding of the sports they filmed in Oxygen, and of the evolving portrayal of female athletes in popular culture. On top of all that, they’ve been shooting sports films, though largely instructional, for the past 30 years. Oxygen promises to be their chef d’oeuvre.