Directors: Anson Hartford and Hugh Hartford
Starring: Les D’Arcy, Rune Forsberg, Sun Lao, Terry Donlon, Dorothy DeLow, Lisa Modlich, Ursula Bihl, Inge Hermann
Running Time: 80 mins
Original UK Cert: PG
Original UK Release: 6th July 2012
Over the years, one form of film making has grown in both popularity and reputation. The documentary opens your eyes to a world that you never knew exists. I knew never, for example, that there was a Veteran’s Table Tennis World Championship until I saw Anson Hartford and Hugh Hartford’s extraordinarily life affirming and sweet-hearted film, Ping Pong. The film doesn’t just follow any ordinary veterans. These remarkable men and women are over 80. One lady, Dorothy DeLow, is an unbelievable 100 and yet she is hitting that plastic white ball as fast as someone 80 years younger.
We follow the lives of 8 unique men and women: Terry is 82 and has been given a week to live. His lungs have all but gone and yet he is determined to win gold in the 2010 World Championship in Inner Mongolia. There’s Inge, a 89-year-old woman from Germany who has found Table Tennis fights off dementia, Les, a 90-year-old fitness fanatic with a longing to win, Rune, from Sweden and Les’s arch rival, Lisa, born in Austria but fled to the US and now wants to win gold, Ursula, former World Champ with the full support from her son and the remarkable Dorothy from Australia, 100 years old and still playing.
The Hartfords are unapologetic when it comes to their story telling. There is little sympathy slipping in. Even the story of struggling Terry and his ailing health is kept to the bare minimum. This is more a tale of the human condition and how some refuse to lie down and let life wash over them. We aren’t given a huge amount of back story of each of the characters. It’s the competition that is much more important. How each of them approach the event.
There’s the obsessive: Les and Lisa both want glory. Les, remarkable for his passion to his health and keeping fit, is fully motivated to the cause. While Lisa plays it much cooler but has a steely determination to beat the competition. She can see the weaknesses in all the contestants. Noticing Dorothy, she comments that she doesn’t even move. German partners Inge and Ursula make up a formidable team, with their own individual goals. Inge’s story is especially interesting, as she has found by playing the game, it has kept her from losing her mind and in the very brief introduction scene, we see her wandering the corridors of a rest home, patients in wheelchairs while she almost marches through.
What the film brings more than anything is hope and humour. We know that Terry is incredibly ill and close to dying but instead of being morbid and dwelling on the fact, we are given the more positive side to his life, his love of the game. Even at the darkest hours when he is fighting for breath during a particularly strenuous match, you are willing him on. Not to stop but to win.
It’s a pleasure from start to finish with plenty to admire, mainly from the contestants. Watching Dorothy swamped by adoring fans wanting her autograph or a photo just makes you smile. In that little universe, she is a megastar and probably in the length of time she has been on the planet, she has never had such admiration. You would be a hard man or woman if you weren’t completely moved by these amazing people and, if I may say so myself, a little bit envious too.
Unavailable on DVD