Director Laura McGann's feature documentary debut, 2016's Revolutions, shined a light on the women at the forefront of Ireland's roller derby scene. Her follow-up, The Deepest Breath, documents the freediver Alessia Zecchini's attempts to break several world records. From a distance, both films center around women carving out new spaces for themselves in the world of competitive sports.
"The fact that both films are about female athletes is really just a coincidence," McGann says. "I'm not a big sports fan, and I'm definitely not a jock. That's not really what draws me into a story."
Instead, the Irish-born filmmaker notes that athletics can be a "wonderful" vehicle to tell a story that goes "beyond the sport" itself. "In the case of Revolutions, I was really fascinated by the story of these women in their early 20s who were staying in Ireland and starting a roller derby team, even when everyone around them was emigrating out of the country," McGann explains. "The nation was burning to the ground around them, but they were trying to start something new anyway. I loved their spirit. It was like the Cool Runnings of roller derby."
With The Deepest Breath, it was Zecchini's personal journey that appealed to McGann. "At a really young age, she had this dream of being a famous freediver, which wasn't really even a thing anyone could be at that time. She kept it a secret because people thought it was kind of a silly dream. And then, when she was 13, she gave it a go and beat the adult men at her local swimming pool." Afterward, Zecchini was told that she had to be 18 to compete as a freediver.
"I don't know about you, but I was a pretty impatient, flighty teenager,' McGann says. "But Alessia just put her head down, and she trained and she trained and she trained, and then came back when she was 18 and blew everyone else out of the water. She's continued to do so ever since then."
Below, McGann shares with A.frame five films — including both documentary and narrative movies — that inspired her approach to filmmaking, and that continue to inspire her to this day.
Directed by: Bart Layton
One film that was a real inspiration for me as a filmmaker was The Imposter, which was directed by Bart Layton, who executive produced The Deepest Breath. I think you could say that The Imposter may have changed the way we make documentaries. The storytelling throughout it was crafted in a way that I'd never really seen in a documentary before. It's a film that I've really gone through with a fine tooth comb. It's a really ambitious project, and it's pushed me to be a bit more ambitious with the scale of my storytelling as well.
Directed by: Trevor Frost and Melissa Lesh
Wildcat tells this incredible story about a young soldier who's just come back from Afghanistan, and he has PTSD and he's suffering from a number of different issues. Eventually, he decides to volunteer at a wildcat sanctuary, and he develops this connection with this wild ocelot and meets this beautiful, incredible girl there and they fall in love. It's a really beautiful exploration of grief, PTSD, mental health, and the effects that war has on all these poor young people who are sent off to fight. I cried like a baby watching it. It's incredibly moving, and I feel like it didn't get the attention it deserved when it was released last year.
Directed and written by: Malik Bendjelloul
Where do you start with Searching for Sugar Man? Everyone has seen it at this point, but the reason why I love it is the sheer scale of its story and the places it goes. It's both a massively cinematic experience and really intimate as well. It tells a story that's simultaneously too hard to believe and also immensely personal. It's a film about the crazy things that people can choose to do, or not do, depending on what you believe.
Directed by: Alex Pritz
I only watched The Territory a couple of weeks ago, but what I loved about it was the incredible access that the filmmaker had to both sides of the film's conflict. It's the kind of film that, as you're watching it, you can feel that it's been made by a filmmaker with a camera on their shoulder. There's something special you get when you're just one person with a camera and you’re making a film. There's a real intimacy there.
As a filmmaker, Alex Pritz is very light on his feet. He's an unobtrusive, delicate storyteller. When I made my last film, Revolutions, I also had a camera on my shoulder, so I get how hard that kind of filmmaking is, and I thought that he did an incredible job with The Territory.
Directed by: Wes Anderson | Written by: Wes Anderson and Noah Baumbach
The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou is a film that I have watched probably 500 times, but not in about 500 years. For anyone who's seen The Deepest Breath, it's probably obvious why it's popped into my head, but there's a quirkiness I love to Bill Murray's character and the way he's chasing this wacky dream, and everyone around him is just going along with it throughout the film. I really enjoy the offbeat nature of what he's trying to do, and visually, it's such a stunning movie. And funny as well! It's a really, really enjoyable film.