Half the Road: Film Review

George Deswijzen
Despite its powerful arguments, this polemical documentary suffers from excessive length and its overly dry approach.

Kathryn Bertine's documentary details the unfair treatment afforded to women's professional cycling.

Pro cyclist and debuting filmmaker Kathryn Bertine makes a convincing argument for the disparity in fairness between men’s and women’s cycling in her impassioned documentary Half the Road. But as its subtitle — The Passion, Pitfalls & Power of Women’s Professional Cycling — might indicate, she does so in an overstuffed, polemical manner that wears down even the most sympathetic viewer. While those passionately interested in the subject will find much to induce them, the film doesn’t succeed in translating its agenda into compelling cinema.

Bertine, a three-time national champion of the Caribbean islands of St. Kitts and Nevis (who knew?), certainly mines her topic in a fully exhaustive manner. The film begins with a mini history lesson of the sport, which dates back to the 1870s, informing us that the famed suffragist Susan B. Anthony cited cycling as a step towards equality.

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The film’s principal target is the Union Cycliste Internationale, or UCI, which essentially controls the sport. This boys' club has gone out of its way to prevent equality, resulting in, among many other things, men getting higher pay rates. Women were not allowed to compete in the Olympics until 1984, and are forced to contend with such arbitrary rules as one mandating that the median age for a female team not exceed 28 years.

Numerous female cyclists are interviewed, as well as current UCI president Brian Cookson and other figures including former U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Richard Carmona. One of the most scintillating subjects is Kathrine Switzer, who became the first woman to run in the Boston Marathon in 1967. Since women were not allowed in the competition then, she registered under her initials, only to be physically attacked by an official when he spotted her in the race. Commenting on the misguided assertion that women should not be allowed to run long distances because of the physical damage it would do to their reproductive organs, she dryly says, “I can say categorically that my uterus did not fall out.”

The filmmaker makes the case for women being as tough as men by including graphic footage of female cyclists falling and getting injured, noting that seven riders have been killed in accidents since they’ve been allowed to compete.

But for all the persuasive arguments trotted out, the film suffers from its dryly didactic approach and excessive length. Despite its undeniably inspirational elements — such as its profile of Kristin Armstrong, who won an Olympic gold medal at the age of 38 after having retired and who persevered despite suffering a broken collarbone — Half the Road too often feels like a marathon.

Opens: April 18 (First Run Features)

Director-screenwriter-producer: Kathryn Bertine

Executive producers: Jeff Lund, Kellogg Ltd.

Narrator: Bob Roll

Not rated, 106 minutes