Focus On Film

Capturing the Power and Grace of an Olympian in Road to London

Published on website: March 21, 2013
Categories: 35mm , Documentaries , Focus On Film , VISION3 500T Color Negative Film 5219/7219
Photo Courtesy of Cem Doruk
Photo Courtesy of Cem Doruk

Road to London is a visual poem that highlights the lyrical beauty of high-level gymnastics, and the fierce dedication required of an OLYMPIC athlete. Goksu Uctas started learning gymnastics at age 5, and at age 6, she moved to a city in western Turkey to continue. She spent years training twice a day, and endured a series of injuries, including a dislocated elbow and a painful neck hernia. Not to be deterred, Uctas persevered and became the first athlete in history to represent Turkey in the field of artistic gymnastics at the OLYMPICS. She competed at the 2012 OLYMPIC Games in London. Despite her heroic story, she is not especially well known in her country.

Director Efe Oztezdogan enlisted cinematographer Meryem Yavuz to help document Uctas’s training regimen. Yavuz studied at the Turkish National Film School, and has shot several features and more than 50 short films over the past seven years. She has also worked as a loader and electrician on bigger international co-productions.

“I prefer to shoot film when possible,” says Yavuz. “Film was definitely the right medium for Road to London. Also, the film postproduction path is well established in Turkey, whereas digital workflows are less dependable.”

To prepare for Road to London, the filmmakers studied iconic sports documentaries like director Kon Ichikawa’s Tokyo Olympiad (1965). They planned their project carefully, because Uctas could not perform limitless takes. They spent a generous amount of time getting to know the athlete.

“You can feel her aura when you enter the room,” says producer Cem Doruk. “She has a strong will. We didn’t change anything about her actual training, except the background.”

More than 1,000 square yards of black cloth were hung around the training to isolate Uctas against black as she performed her routines on the uneven parallel bars and other equipment at the gym. Each shot and angle was planned out ahead of time to minimize wasted takes.

Yavuz shot with two ARRI 435 cameras loaded with KODAK VISION3 500T Color Negative Film 5219, and equipped with MASTER PRIME lenses. Once the decision was made to render black-andwhite images, Yavuz felt free to light with daylight-balanced light — usually a single 6K lamp, perfectly placed — which rendered a subtly different quality of light that she preferred over light from a tungsten lamp.

Slow motion was also a key aspect of the cinematography. The over-cranked images slow the gymnast’s movements and emphasize her grace, power and beauty. One camera was usually running at 25 frames per second, a rate that works well with the post infrastructure in Turkey. The second camera was mounted on a JIMMY JIB, a small crane, and ran at 150 frames per second. About 30 100-foot rolls of film were exposed. After a 2K transfer, the color was drained from the images digitally. Film prints and DCPs were made. Representatives of one of the largest theater chains in Turkey saw the film and were sufficiently impressed to show it before the main feature in their theaters all across Turkey. Road to London was also screened at the 2012 Plus Camerimage International Festival of the Art of Cinematography in a special category devoted to documentaries on sports, gaining the filmmakers positive notice and international exposure.

“We plan to make more films about amateur athletes,” says Doruk. “We hope to make longer films that examine the personalities of the athletes.“