Wild in the Streets: Slamdance Review

Wild in the Streets Slamdance Press Image - H 2012

Wild in the Streets Slamdance Press Image - H 2012

An engagingly oddball sports documentary that’s as much about community as it is about competition.

Peter Baxter's spirited doc chronicles a rough-and-tumble, centuries-old annual event called Shrovetide Football in the English countryside.

That time-honored sports tradition known as the cross-town rivalry is taken to extreme lengths -- three miles in between goals to be exact -- in Wild in the Streets, an energetic, intriguing documentary about a centuries-old event called Shrovetide Football.

Having its origins among a pair of medieval communities living along the river Henmore, located in what is today known as the English East Midlands county of Derbyshire, the annual match is a raucous, free-for-all that galvanizes the nominally peaceful people of Ashbourne.

Directed by Slamdance president and co-founder, Peter Baxter, and screened as a special presentation, the spirited film packs a universal appeal that travels well beyond the banks of the Henmore.

Named for its position on the calendar prior to Lent, the Shrovetide (known elsewhere as Mardi Gras) version of football involves trying to maneuver a four-pound homemade leather ball toward one of two goals situated on either side of town.

The catch?

Some 3,000 players happen to be involved, divided into two teams known as the Up’ards and Down’ards depending on their geographical position along the river. There are no referees and nothing’s considered out of bounds, either territorially (with the exception of cemeteries and churchyards) or physically (short of manslaughter).

Needless to say, there’s no shortage of alcohol and testosterone-fueled, bare-knuckled hooliganism involved, although the passionate Up-ards and Down’ards stating their case prefer to think of it more as “friendly strife.”

Baxter and editors Jay Nelson and Steve Prestemon combine those engaging interviews with terrific archival footage -- there are some in Ashbourne who contend that early versions of the game were played with the head of a sacrificed virgin -- while Sean Bean, who grew up 27 miles away from the town, ably provides the impartial narration.

While the film has much to say about the importance placed on tradition and community values in the face of constant social upheaval, there’s one nagging topic that remains unanswered:

Just where amidst that heaving mass of several thousand was Baxter and his crew able to set up their cameras without getting trampled?   

Venue:  Slamdance Film Festival
Production companies: Ocule Films, Village GreenNarrator: Sean Bean
Director: Peter BaxterScreenwriters: Peter Baxter, Jay Nelson
Executive producers: Kirt Eftekhar, Jonny Fink, Scott Henry, Jay Nelson, Steve Prestemon, Randy Wooten
Producers: Peter Baxter, Jimmy ZalcmanDirector of photography: Lance AcordMusic: Matt McKenna
Editors: Jay Nelson, Steve Prestemon
Not Rated, 81 minutes.