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“The Match” Lights a Fire at the Edmonton International Film Festival

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For ages, people have asked the question: Is professional wrestling real? Well, if “real” refers to the place it holds in the hearts of devoted fans and the impact it has on their day-to-day lives, the answer is an unequivocal “Yes”. And after watching The Match, which picked up the Alberta Short Film Award for best documentary this week at the Edmonton International Film Festival, you too might be persuaded.

Directed by Kurt Spenrath, The Match offers an insightful glimpse into the lives of two regular guys in western Canada whose larger than life alter egos as wrestlers in the Prairie Wrestling Alliance make them crowd pleasers in a sport which is often ridiculed and maligned as nothing more than cheap entertainment appealing to the lowest common denominator.

However, Spenrath's film does a fine job of shattering the myth, as viewers are introduced to the would-be hero and villain of the story: Hollywood Dusty Adonis and Sheik Akbar Shabaz. Dusty, a.k.a. Dustin Meyer, lives in a small town in west central Saskatchewan and works at a plant that processes canary seed. But as Dusty, he is a local legend who enjoys the fervent support of his friends, family and colleagues, who acknowledge his lifelong love of wrestling, not merely as a fan, but as a performer as well. Hundreds of kilometers away in a similar small town in northern Alberta, Nizar Watfa works an equally low-key job in the construction sector when he's not helping out at his family's burger restaurant. But as Sheik Akbar Shabaz, he is the embodiment of the bad guy that fans love to jeer.

But of course, it takes more than charisma and a catchy moniker to inspire the kind of devotion needed to draw audiences, and support a regional wrestling association like the P.W.A. That reality requires the dedication of a loyal fan base, and the film excels in showcasing some of the people for whom a night out at a wrestling match offers not only a chance to root for their favorites, but also, surprisingly enough, gives them something to believe in, and arguably improves their quality of life, none more so than a young woman featured in the film who, despite chronic health issues, never misses a match, which has earned her the title of “Fan of the Decade”.

In fact, if the film's theme could be summed up in a word, it would be “devotion”. In the span of a tightly paced and edited 15-minute odyssey, it becomes evident just how devoted the players are to putting on a good show, and the fact that they do so not for financial gain or adulation, but rather out of a true love of performance and pleasing an audience. When we see Dusty leave his home at dawn on a sub-zero winter Saskatchewan morning to drive more than six hours at his own expense to the match's venue in Edmonton, it's clear to what extent some people will go when they are passionate about something. Likewise, we see the potential downside of being known mainly for one's stage persona and understand the concerns of Nizar's father about his son's sideline, whose Sheik character embodies more than a few negative Arab cultural stereotypes.

Ultimately however, what clearly emerges is the great pleasure these two young performers give their audience and how much they enjoy doing what they do, even if the pay is negligible. The irony of course is that if these guys drove for hours to bring Shakespeare or ballet to some remote northern community, they would be more highly revered as practitioners of their craft. But to the fans who love them, they make “real life” a whole lot more exciting and entertaining.

For distribution and broadcasting rights enquiries, contact Open Sky Pictures: openskypictures.com
 
 

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