In the fall of 2013, POV caught up with filmmaker Hugh Hartford of Ping Pong to find out what’s happened since the camera stopped rolling.
Can you give us an update on the players?
Sadly, Les D’Arcy died in February 2013 at age 91. His son Paul said: “Sport was a big part of his life. He was inspirational — he definitely lived life to the full in the right way. He has certainly left an impression on the world.” Anson and I went to Les’ funeral in Wakefield. It was in a packed church and friends and relatives of all ages and backgrounds were there. Les was buried with his bat.
Terry Donlon is not playing as much these days but still travels a lot with his partner Sylvia.
Lisa Modlich is very well and is preparing for the next World Championships.
Since the film’s festival premiere at Hot Docs in 2012, Ping Pong been shown around the world. Can you tell us about some of the reactions to the film? Or the most surprising things that have happened around film screenings?
There was an older lady after a London screening who, when she met me, said “I thought you were going to be at least 80 years old to have made that film.” Another time a middle age man who was in tears said “I wanted to say something but couldn’t, so I wrote it down.” He showed me a piece of paper with “amazing” written on. We’d poured so much love and thought and emotion into this film, it really was hugely rewarding to know that a little bit of it gets held and even passed on to someone else.
I think the most nerve-wracking show was at a test screening in a care home in the UK. It was the first time we intentionally showed it to an older audience. We’d spent three years working within the world of octogenarian athletes and were now finally reflecting back our thoughts and feelings on growing old to an audience of people who were far more knowledgeable on the subject than me. Like an early-20th-century anthropologist might have felt, it was as if we’d been out in the field researching a particular tribe and now having processed our material were finally showing our findings back to that same group. They might have hated it. Or worse, found it patronizing. How presumptuous for a man in his 30s to try an understand what its like to be 80 and tell other 80-year-olds about it. In the end, everyone was very polite and we didn’t get lynched but I did come away thinking that this film reveals more about myself and my understanding of the world than any bigger truths about age.
What are you working on next?
We have a small production company in London and are spending a lot of time working on documentaries for television. In the background there are a few longer form ideas bubbling away — including one about teenagers. Anson and I are very much looking forward to throwing ourselves into the next project.