Wednesday, October 3, 2012


Would you believe it if I told you that one of most emotionally captivating films I've seen in recent times is about jump rope?  Yeah, I'd be skeptical, too.  But here it is, more than a week since I watched Doubletime and I'm still impressed at how deeply the story cuts, the astounding look of the thing, and, most of all, just how personally involving of a documentary director Stephanie Johnes has put together here.

The film quickly sorts out the two main types of competitive jump rope; for those not in the know, there's skip rope and double dutch.  Skip rope is what most people talk about when they refer to jump rope, pretty basic on the surface, but, as the champion-level kids featured in the doc prove, there's a level of mastery within the competitive skip rope world that's far beyond what you'd see being practiced on your local playground.  Double dutch uses two jump ropes at the same time and is just as challenging for the jumper as it is for the two individuals working the ropes.  Additionally, in competitive double dutch, there's a style known as fusion, which incorporates dancing and hip hop culture into standard double dutch technique.

Perhaps the most important distinction between skip rope and double dutch, however, is their division along racial lines.  Double dutch is almost entirely identified with and practiced by the African-American community, while the kids in Doubletime who work at skip rope are primarily Caucasian.  Johnes spends a good amount of time exploring how the split between the two forms of jump rope started, chronicling the history of both sides of the divide.  The big event in Doubletime--and, yes, there's always a big event in these kinds of films--is the annual Double Dutch Holiday Classic at the Apollo Theater, where for the first time a group of competitive skip rope players will compete alongside the kings and queens of double dutch.

Johnes captures an inside view of two teams of kids as they prepare to compete in Harlem.  South Carolina's Double Dutch Forces are, as their name indicates, well versed in the ways of double dutch, but this inner-city team still has a lot to work ahead of them on their way to the Apollo.  North Carolina's Bouncing Bulldogs are the newbies from the suburbs at the competition and they're facing an uphill battle as they try to incorporate the more foreign aspects of double dutch fusion into their repertoire.  Each team has its own set of characters, including their trainers whose own hopes and dreams are caught up in the excitement of the upcoming competition.

Doubletime is a great pleasure to watch.  From its remarkable perspective on both present and historical issues of race in America to the incredibly optimistic and talented kids performing their incredible, near-acrobatic routines, I was sold from the first minute until the last.  Seriously, I was grinning like a damn fool during most of this film and shouting, "whoa," or, "wow," during the rest of it.  If you loved Spellbound, Murderball, or Hoop Dreams, you'll absolutely find something to love in Doubletime.

Doubletime is available on dvd & video on demand now.  More info about how to see the film can be found here.

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