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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: We had to wait and let life develop, and that’s really hard. We’re both narratively-trained, so it’s just a process of crossing your fingers and hoping. It’s a huge leap of faith to dive into a character-driven piece. Thankfully it kind of came full circle and they realized their dreams or they didn’t realize their dreams, but it all fit together pretty well. Still, we had no control over that.
 
 TFPN: You revisit the characters a year later in a coda to the film. Was it important for you to continue their story? Is there ever really an end to an story? Is there ever really an end to a film?
 
 Chang: It was a happier ending if we didn’t shoot the next year. But it fit our aesthetic and how we see life. It can be disappointing sometimes.

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Autovino: Right, even if you realize your dreams it can be not what you thought it would be. Or giving up, that thing we all go through. It’s just life. We tend to portray life – I wouldn’t say bleakly, but pretty honestly. I’m not a sugar-coater. There’s an honesty to it.

Chang: But the film is also positive. When we were editing the film, I realized that it had to with a fear in my life: taking a risk, and risking failure. And witnessing these people go through that – sometimes they fail, but for me it was encouraging to see that other people do this, so why can’t I?

Autovino: The film really paralleled what we were going through at the time. Financial fears, understanding your motivation, why am I getting up in the morning, how am I going to better my life? It’s the same stuff that we were dealing with.

Chang: Right, this happened through film school and then after film school, so there was that fear as well.
 
 TFPN: In the case of your characters, their motivation in life is very clear, and you can see it in their performances. It was really interesting seeing how they set up the events and practice and literally direct each other like actors.

Chang: Imagine trying to portray Jesus.

Autovino: What pressure!

Chang: The guy in the film, Kevin, is a very quiet guy. And a little bit pushed around, but he just does it, he’s a good sport. Well, he got chosen because he has long hair [laugh]. We spent holidays with Todd, the director, and he directs these plays in his church that are very modern.

Autovino: They’re epic! He writes and directs them, he does the choreography. They’re incredible! Man, if he were born in New York, he’d be very successful up here. His talent is impressive.
 
 TFPN: In many ways religion and wrestling seem totally opposed, but something about the performative aspects of both brings them together.

Chang: Right. Rob was really smart about his concept because when you go to a wrestling show, people are revved up! So you channel that energy into religion and people are already very emotion and have heartfelt conversations with the wrestlers after the show.

Autovino: It’s all about moving people. Being in church, a pastor does that, but performers of all kinds do that as well. More than anything, people are looking for an environment where they can be loved unconditionally. You are OK just the way you are. And for a lot of these people, Ultimate Christian Wrestling provides that.

John DeCarli is a guest blogger at The Film Panel Notetaker.

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