The Jamestown Art Center always impresses with its scope and variety of arts programs: it may be located on an island, but the Center’s world-view is global. Or spherical, in the case of the recent premier of Gold Balls, a documentary about aging athletes presented as part of the Rhode Island Film Festival.
Director Kate Dandel’s film offers an insight into the world of ultra senior competitive tennis. Gold balls are the ultimate prize — awarded for being the best tennis player in a given age group in tournaments held across the country, on various surfaces and for both singles and doubles. Gold balls can be won at any age, but you must be at least the designated age to compete. Dandel’s film focuses on several players 80 years and older, still striving to win and thriving on the thrill of the competition. Ironically, players eagerly anticipate reaching the next decade milestone so that they would be the young’uns in the next age group.
Dandel’s film idea started with her father-in-law, Ron Tonidandel, who takes a modified van to travel to tournaments around the country. While his drive to compete against fairly steep odds might not be understood by outsiders, it is clearly shared by the other players on the tour. As Dandel said in the Q & A after the Jamestown premier, once she met and interviewed other players on the ultra senior tour, she was compelled to expand her documentary.
Dandel’s film succeeds in documenting the heart, intensity and energy of a champion at any age. Truly, none of the players highlighted in Gold Balls seem old. While perhaps not as fast on their feet or as powerful as they may have been in an earlier decade, the competitive energy has not waned. As I said to my fellow tennis-loving friend who accompanied me to the movie premiere, we certainly have something to aspire to!
Gold Balls was funded by a Kickstarter campaign and a grant from an assisted living facility, and took three years to complete. Dandel’s hopes that her film will inspire competitive energy at any age. Check the website to find out where you can book a screening, view the film, and find some inspiration for yourself.