In America, we generally think about Ultimate Frisbee as a pastime for beach bros and college dudes on the quad. But in some places around the globe, this simple sport has become a beacon of hope for the most downtrodden and disenfranchised. The film 175 Grams, a winner of the 2015 Sundance Institute Short Film Challenge, tells this story. It’s about Fly Wild, an Ultimate team in Chennai, India, comprised of teenagers from the slums. These are kids who come from poor backgrounds, but who, through Ultimate, are striving for better lives.
“When someone from the slums plays the game, they see the world differently and they see the opportunities that lie before them,” says the film’s co-director, Bharat Mirle. “It has a huge mental impact on them–a better life ceases to just be some dream, it becomes real.”
Last year, the Sundance Institute Short Film Challenge, which is sponsored by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, called for open submissions about “an empowering person or an optimistic story about individuals and communities who are overcoming poverty and hunger, combating disease, or improving health.” Movies poured in from 90 countries. The four other winners include stories about a homeless blacksmith living under Africa’s longest bridge in Lagos, Nigeria, a Native American girl who brings her community together through gardening, an American food activist and conservationist and a fictional narrative about a South African boy who improves his life through skateboarding.
175 Grams fits directly into this thematic cross-section. In India, Ultimate Frisbee is an equalizer. Both sexes play together, as do youth from different socio-economic backgrounds. And the founder and coach of Fly Wild is not only pushing his team to excel in school but helping them raise money for college.
Mirle and his co-director Aravind Iyer did not grow up in such impoverished circumstances, but as a child in Bangalore, Mirle had to borrow a family friend’s camcorder to enact his directorial fantasies. Today, he co-runs an independent film production company called Yogensha Productions. The Sundance Short Doc competition is Mirle’s first major award, and the prize is no joke. In addition to $10,000, Sundance sent him on an all expenses paid trip to attend this year’s festival. “A majority of filmmakers all over the world have dreamed of having their films screened at Sundance,” he says. “I always hoped it would be a possibility.” As for the prize money–audiences will being seeing it put to use in Mirale’s next project.