For many of the film lovers who attended last night’s Rooftop Films event — and it was an event — it was their first taste of live pro wrestling.
During the post-screening Q&A, and just moments before he got into something of a scrap with Rooftop Films founder Mark Elijah Rosenberg, Fake It So Real filmmaker Robert Greene (Kati with an I) explained that he had chosen this project because (a) his cousin is one of the wrestlers and (b) it was a one-week shooting schedule. Indeed, the film takes place over the course of a single week leading up to the “North American” championship match for Lincolnton, North Carolina’s Millennium Wrestling Federation.
Greene followed the pack of indie wrestlers as they trained, promoted and performed, but it’s their relationships that make Fake It So Real worth watching. No particular wrestler fills a primary storyline, though any one could have. Gabriel, the newbie, struggles with his wrestling identity — you should know that wrestlers use alter egos in the ring — but he struggles with his personal identity as well. When one of his wrestling fraternity “brothers” asks if he’s gay, a subject the MWF milks in its ongoing public wrestling soap opera, Gabriel avoids the topic as much as denying the allegation. It’s a non-issue when they get into the ring and it’s the camaraderie between the motley group that is the focus of the documentary.
The wrestlers, mostly blue-collar types who make no money at their passion, liken themselves more as actors in a theater than anything else. No one leaves a play saying it’s fake, we’re reminded. Refreshingly, the film isn’t about juicing or steroids — there doesn’t appear to be evidence of it, and their physiques show it. Some of the guys may look overweight, but make no mistake, they train hard and suffer as many back, neck and knee injuries as you may imagine. They also take pride in the fact that marines and pro-football players have tried out but haven’t made the cut. The sport requires heart, and few have it.
After the screening, many of the subjects joined a full-on wrestling match to the delight of the New York crowd. Rosenberg and Greene got into the ring as well, with Greene, now in mask and tights, antagonizing the Rooftop Films founder for not screening his previous feature. Rosenberg quickly pinned Greene, and cheers of “Rooftop! Rooftop!” followed.
As the night wound down, audience members, men and women alike, couldn’t be pried from the ring. Future screenings could be interesting. Theater owners, be warned: Make sure your premiums are up-to-date!