• Cholita wrestler Martha La Altena (Photo by Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images) (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
From Afghanistan to Boliva, the Netherlands to the United States, these documentaries tell the stories of women through sport
Ann Odong

1 Jul 2016 - 9:27 AM  UPDATED 1 Jul 2016 - 10:07 AM

1.         Unmatched (2010)

Running time: 54 minutes

Tennis greats Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova had one of the captivating rivalries of the sport. 

In over 16 years, Evert and Navratilova met in 80 matches, 60 finals and 14 grand slam finals. 

"Just think about the dynamic of competing against your best friend. They would practice together, eat lunch together, then go out and play in the final and then make travel plans to go to the next tournament." - Hannah Storm, Producer

The media sought to label them; Evert was the All-American girl and Navratilova was the lesbian from a communist nation, but off the court, the two stars maintained a decade's long friendship. 

Shot over three days, this documentary profiles their on court competition and off court bond.


2.         Shadow Boxers (1999) 

Running time: 72 minutes

Women's boxing is now an Olympic sport but not that long ago it was an uphill battle for those women who wanted to make a living in the ring. 

Shadow Boxers focuses one such woman; pioneering women's boxer Lucia Rijker. 

The documentary provides a real and honest glimpse into the life of Rijker and puts into plain view the euphoria and anxiety of the sport.  It's a beautifully shot piece of film and Rijker's engaging storytelling stands the test of time. 

On a side note, Lucia Rijker trained Hilary Swank for her Oscar winning role of Maggie Fitzgerald in Million Dollar Baby. Rijker also played one of Swank's opponents in the movie. 


3.         Training Rules (2009)

Running time: 63 minutes

College basketball in the USA is one of the big sports for women, but what happens when your sexuality determines your success and not your talent? 

This is the theme explored in this award winning documentary that is subtitled "No Drinking, No Drugs, No Lesbians". 

It focuses on the Penn State University women's basketball program where head coach Rene Portland was alleged to have a discriminatory policy regarding the selection (and expulsion) of players based on their sexual orientation. 

The policy continued for over 25 years before a player expelled from the program, Jennifer Harris, brought legal action prompting several former players to speak out, including in Training Rules


4.         The Fighting Cholitas (2006)

Running time: 20 minutes

This might be a short doco but the subject matter is intriguing. 

The Fighting Cholitas are a group of lucha libre wrestlers in Bolivia.  What started as a publicity stunt by the owners of the group Titans of the Ring has become part of a counter culture in Bolivia. 

The Cholitas are of varying ages and backgrounds and their performances look sometimes more like choreographed dance than the physicality of WWE.  This is another beautifully filmed short documentary, which gives insight into the Cholitas themselves as well as a wider lens into the challenges for women in Bolivia. 

The Fighting Cholitas received an honorable mention in Short Filmmaking at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival. It won the Jury Award for 'Best Documentary' at the 2007 Aspen Shortsfest; the 'Jury Award for Best Documentary Short' at the 2007 Atlanta Film Festival; and the award for 'Best Documentary Short' at the 2007 Nashville Film Festival. 

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5.         Dare to Dream: The Story of the U.S. Women's Football Team (2005)

Running time: 77 minutes

Before there was Megan Rapinoe, Hope Solo, Alex Morgan and Carli Lloyd, there was another group of superstars that captured the imagination of US women's football fans.  

In fact, these players laid the groundwork for today's generation of players.  Dare to Dream explores Julie Foudy, Mia Hamm, Kristine Lilly, Brandi Chastain and Joy Fawcett's role in the growth of the USWNT from unknowns in the late 1980s to two time World Cup winners and Olympic gold medallists in the mid 2000s.  

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6.         The Boxing Girls of Kabul (2012)

Running time: 52 minutes

Another boxing story, however this one is set in the more unforgiving terrain of Afghanistan.  

"They will understand afterwards when a girl has become a champion. They will understand the value of girls."

The documentary follows the Sabir Sharifi and the young women under his tutelage at the Afghanistan’s female boxing academy, whom are hoping to qualify for the London 2012 Olympic Games.  

In a highly patriarchal and religious society, the boxers not only have to navigate the lack of funding and support evident in women's sport but also the censure of their society.  This censure often comes in the threat of physical and sexual violence and even death threats.  


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