Tag Archives: Skate Canada

Ice, Sweat and Tears – A Filmmaker Interview


Photo of Aaron Hancox (Co-producer) and Judy Holm (Executive Producer) at the Canadian Screen Awards

(Photo by Derek Langer)

 Ice, Sweat and Tears, an hour-long figure skating documentary, is set to air on Thursday, March 7 on CBC’s Doc Zone. The film investigates the dedication, stamina and training that it takes to compete as a figure skater on the world stage, and serves as an introduction to the fiercely competitive and highly athletic world of figure skating.

Ice, Sweat and Tears takes a close look into the journeys of ice dance champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, the young pairs team Paige Lawrence and Rudi Swiegers, and the well known men’s competitor Patrick Chan, among others, with insights from seasoned veterans who’ve retired from the competitive scene, Kurt Browning and Elvis Stojko.

Spouses, family, and fans of other sports often misunderstand the world of the figure skating “super fan” and misjudge the complex sport of figure skating. Where hockey is a team effort with easily definable points, figure skating is intense athleticism hiding demurely under carefully chosen costuming. It is a solo effort with a complicated scoring system, where one athlete spends time in the spotlight performing. Ice, Sweat and Tears opens up the world of the super fan, enlightening others as to why they may hold their breath for 4 minutes and 30 seconds until the artistic performance is completed. The film gets people to understand the relational and personal nature of figure skating, and serves as a great intro to the sport for those who may not quite “get it”.

I had a chance to talk to husband and wife filmmaking team Michael McNamara (not pictured) and Judy Holm about making Ice, Sweat and Tears.

RL: What got you interested in Figure Skating in the first place?

JH: I’m a big fan – I have been for a long long time.

MM: And I live with a big fan.

JH: I would call Michael in to watch specific things, since I came from a dance background; I get really excited and totally “get” it when they do something spectacular.

RL: What was the most surprising thing you learned about skating through the course of the documentary?

MM: I really didn’t realize the level of athleticism that was involved – the speed and stamina that is required of these athletes.  As soon as I realized this, that became the goal, to get the viewers a little closer to the action. When you’re watching on TV you can’t tell how fast these kids are moving.

JH: I don’t think that I really really really understood the depth of the danger that accompanies this sport.

MM: We were able to strap cameras to their arms, chests and skates to give their point of view. A whole different perspective.

RL: How would you say that Canada’s teams and program differ from other world teams.

JH: Canada has always been up there in the top competitors ever since we started. There’s always been a Canadian skater from one or two of the disciplines [singles, pairs, ice dancers] at the top. The interesting thing that is happening lately is the expansion of the disciplines that we’re at the top in.

When Tessa and Scott won at the Olympics it was the first time a North American team had won ice dance – it’s been a category dominated primarily by the Russian teams. It’s a bit more global now as they’re trained by a former soviet star: less political blocks and more global.

RL: What sort of sense did you get from the “retired” skaters?

JH: Kurt Browning and Elvis Stojko are two guys who were fascinated by athleticism and speed. They were just guys out there. Kurt continues to skate with his shows. Elvis is an adrenaline junkie doing go-cart racing.

Competitively skating is a sport that has a limited life span. You’re not doing it by your mid 30s; amateur competition even more so. I’m sure there are all kinds of stories, good, bad, and in the middle. When you’re a champion, that  continues to be a part of you even after you’re done.

RL: What was the biggest challenge in making this documentary?

JH: Remembering to bring our long underwear.

MM: Even in the summer!

MM: I’d say maybe getting the skaters used to our presence. We wanted to be flies on the wall, to capture real honest responses. We were a small team, a small crew. They’re used to cameras but usually the scrutiny begins and ends at the competition. We had to gain their trust, and I think we did.

JH: It’s a fine balance between getting enough film, because they’re distracted and focused on their season. We worked a lot with Skate Canada and did a lot of planning with Barb McDonald to get everything we needed without taking away from the skaters’ focus.

RL: How do you feel this documentary will affect the Canadian public?

JH: I think they’re gonna love it!

Doc Zone and CBC have positioned it so it’s a lead-up to the Worlds. CBC has worked very well with Skate Canada.  We’ve got some preview clips to be shown at the lead-up events.

MM: People who are skating fans can be quite obsessive; they’re a different breed than other fans. When a skater is on the ice, they’re all alone. It’s a very different kind of sport than any other sport. It’s an enormous pressure. The super fans feel very invested in the athletes, like they have a relationship and it’s reciprocal. We hope the super fans will take something away from it, and for people who don’t know anything about it at all that it will make an impact.

JH: I want to convert [more fans]!

 RL: What is your next project, if you have one in the works?

 MM: We have a couple dramas in development at the moment as well as a BravoFACT project – Incident at Lesion Fields that we are co-directing starring Mary Walsh ,Tommy Lee Williams, and Janet Burker.

Thank you Mike and Judy for taking the time to talk to me about Ice, Sweat and Tears.

Ice, Sweat and Tears airs on CBC Television’s Doc Zone Thursday, March 7, 2013 at 9pm (9:30 NT) and repeats Saturday, March 9 at 11pm ET/PT on CBC News Network.