Reviews

Helen Hood Scheer

USA, 2007

Credits

Review by Victoria Large

Posted on 02 June 2008

Source 35mm print

Categories The 2008 Independent Film Festival of Boston

Director Helen Hood Scheer’s documentary Jump!, which chronicles the experiences of five teams of young people who competitively jump rope, surprised me a little with its sincerity. Competitive jump rope is certainly not a sport you hear about often, and before seeing the teams in action, it was easy enough for me to imagine a flippant, Air Guitar Nation-style take on this underexposed subculture. But that was, as I said, before I’d seen the teams in action. The difficult, carefully-executed routines that these kids do are captivating, and as the film progressed, I found myself taking the sport seriously right along with Scheer and her subjects.

Along with the footage of jump-rope practices and competitions, Scheer includes interviews with the team members and their families, allowing for some memorable personalities to emerge between rope-skips. Among the notable characters are twelve-year-old Tori, who pushes herself to the brink despite the fact that she has asthma and concludes most competitions wheezing and gasping for breath; and Marcus, a superstar of the jump rope world who is not the most tactful team player (“If I’m yelling at you—learn from it,” he recommends in one unintentionally comic aside.). Yet while the kids are endearingly human, Scheer does not paint them as kooks or brats, and there aren’t any ferocious stage-parent types getting their vicarious jump rope thrills through their children either.

Scheer’s interest is in the culture of friendship and sharing that exists in the competitive jump rope world. For example, the teams openly share their tricks and techniques with other jumpers, insisting that personal advancement must take a backseat to the advancement of the sport. The athletes want nothing less than to see jump roping added to competition in the Olympics, though they admit that the culture of the sport would almost inevitably change as a result. The charms of Jump!, then, are in how it captures the world of competitive jump rope as it exists at a specific moment in time, when it may or may have been on the brink of bigger things.

It’s true that the breathless enthusiasm of the film causes it to feel at times like a recruitment tool for the sport, or maybe something to show the Olympic committee. But Scheer doesn’t pretend to offer objectivity. (At the screening I attended, Scheer’s Q&A was followed by a jump rope demonstration, and an invitation was extended for members of the audience to try their luck with the double Dutch ropes. The website for the film actually offers links for where to buy jump ropes.) The director is clearly enamored – perhaps too enamored – with the sport; the film is clearly a labor of love. It speaks well of Scheer that she is able to vividly convey the reasons for her considerable appreciation. This is a celebratory piece of filmmaking (For the dark side of skipping rope, look elsewhere.), and it succeeds on that count.

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