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'Ultimate Christian Wrestling' directors discuss their documentary about the unusual sport

The new documentary will have its world premiere at the Korean American Film Festival New York.

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Autovino: They were very kind and welcoming, but also very protective. Some people were very suspicious of us, as I probably would have been. It took them almost a year to really start to let us in. Over time, we spent so many holidays with them and we became very close, to the point where the camera didn’t seem like it was there.

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Chang: That was also a hard part about this project. They don’t owe us anything. So the first month we were there, it was hard to get in touch with people. Billy Jack was afraid of being portrayed as a negative person because there was so much going on in his life. So we had to talk to him and tell him this is a part of who you are and how you deal with life. From then on, we got much more access.

Autovino: So there’s a balance there too in how we portray people. I think they realized over time that we were on their side and we weren’t going to sell them out no matter what. Towards the beginning of the project, we had some opportunities to work in a reality TV setting and we turned them down because the most important thing for us was to protect them. We earned their trust, and trust is a hard thing to earn.
 TFPN: Did your subjects view you as outsiders to their culture and their religion when you first arrived?

Chang: They never asked us if we were Christian. They weren’t concerned about that.

Autovino: They’re really just people who are trying to help other people. They have a specific way of doing it, but it’s not their business what other people think. If somebody is interested in what they believe and what helps them, then they’re willing to share that, but they don’t judge people based on what you do or don’t believe.
 TFPN: And besides, they’re very different from the mainstream Christianity in the south. If you were outsiders to them, then they’re definitely outsiders to most Christians in the area.

Autovino: They’re renegades! They know they’re different and very outside the box in terms of religious practice. They have tattoos, they were spandex, they’re into wrestling: no way! You don’t do that in Baptist churches in the south. Rob wanted to provide a place for people who were into Christianity to go without feeling self-conscious, like ex-cons or bikers. People who wanted spirituality without the members-only jacket.

Chang: I hadn’t been to the South much so I had a certain thought about Christian down there. I was very surprised to see that Ultimate Christian Wrestling was the renegades of the Bible belt. Being raised Christian and being Korean, that changed my perspective. Wow, these guys are outsiders as well. Seeing that clash between traditional Christianity and Ultimate Christian Wrestling was hard to get my mind around.

Autovino: We tried to avoid the black and white thinking that comes with media and religion. What do you hear but the liberal dismissal of Christianity or the religious Right? That’s all you hear is the extreme perspective. I’m not interested in participating in that. How does that help us at all?

Chang: That’s the power of working with someone else: you have a different approach to the subject matter. As opposed to Tara, I was raised Christian and it was a positive environment for me. So there are those two opposing views of religion. And also aesthetically. Tara’s more into the awkward humor and I’m into the serious drama, so having that other voice when we were editing helps us balance those two poles as well.
 TFPN: Speaking about balance, since Ultimate Christian Wrestling is a film about the event itself and about characters, how do you shape the film into a complete story? How do you structure it?

Chang: Because this is a character piece there’s no goal that they’re reaching, so we knew it was going to take a long time. In order to find somebody’s life interesting we knew we were going to have to spend 2, 3, 4 years filming to have a narrative arc, so we had that extra patience.

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