Thursday, August 21, 2014

Interview With "Elegance: A Women's Rugby Story" Director Amanda Hibbert

Amanda Hibbert is a rugby photographer turned filmmaker. Her film is called "Elegance: A Women's Rugby Story." Hibbert has been busy traveling to France to be with the Women's Eagles but found the time to answer a few questions from us.

TIAR:  For those who aren't aware please explain "Elegance: A Women's Rugby Story"

Amanda Hibbert: "Elegance" is a documentary exploring the world of women's rugby in America. Taken from the players perspective, it follow players thru their success and failures during their rugby journey. Balancing practice, work, training and home life, the women compete at different levels of the game. For some players the goal is to earn a spot on the national team, and compete in the 2014 Women's Rugby World Cup, where "Final In 14" is the mantra for the coaching staff. For another player, her goal is to recover from a severe knee injury and make it back onto the field. The film will also touch on the history of women's rugby in the US and hopefully will include a true rookie story (still in talks to film). Elegance is a behind the scenes look at women's rugby, beyond the games, of what it takes to play, and why so many people come to rugby, and no one ever truly leaves it.

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TIAR: What was your inspiration for making the film?

AH: Rugby was one of the best decisions I made in my life and it's given me so much (life long friends, confidence, fitness, leadership skills), I wanted to give back. I am primarily a photographer, so initially the project started out as a photography essay a few years ago. I photographed several teams in the DC area right before moving to San Francisco. As I photographed the teams I realized I wanted to tell the story about the players, why they play the game, and show the fun and the camaraderie you can have with your teammates while playing, which are the things I throughly enjoyed and I think is special about rugby. That realization led me to a multimedia project, which then evolved into a film.

When I moved to San Francisco I reached out to teams in the Bay Area, and the Berkeley All Blues were the only team who got back to me. While filming their WPL season last year the team told me about several players in the Eagles Player Pool and their prospects to make the world cup squad and the olympics. That's when I knew I also need to film the pinnacle of the game, players on the national level, which led me to France this year.

TIAR: You were in France with the team. What was the experience like and what kind of footage were you able to capture?

AH: The experience was wonderful. USA Rugby allowed me unprecedented access to the team and truly supports the film. Beyond game footage and practice I've was in team meetings, the locker room pre, post and at game half time and on the bus traveling with the team. Conducting interviews and pretty much getting to know the players as people. I could have a huge outtake reel.

Everyone on this team has their own unique story of their journey to the world cup, and I wish I could have a film for each player, but that's not possible in the films format. The national team is just one of the story lines for the film. The team has had it's ups and downs, and I've been working to capture each of them. Unfortunately the outcome and placement in the WC was not what the team expected or wanted, but through the film you will see why this is one of the best teams the USA has fielded.

TIAR: What are the plans for the film once it's finished?

AH: Once the film is finished I will be submitting to film festivals in 2015 for a premiere in 2016 ahead of the 2016 Olympics in Rio which will include Rugby Sevens, the first time rugby will be featured in the Olympics since 1924. From the film festival I will find a distributor for an international release.

On the TV front, NBC Universal Sports has expressed interest in premiering the film on TV in the US, and I have a lead on a French network who might also be interested.

TIAR: Why women's rugby?

AH: I choose women's rugby because I have a close connection to the sport since I played in college. This film is definitely my passion project. No one is paying me to make it, and I am currently self-financed, other than the donations I will receive from the Indiegogo Campaign which is live until the end of August. I feel that although the popularity of rugby is growing in America, women's rugby could use a film to showcase the sport and give a sense for why women are so passionate about playing. I feel so strongly that more attention needs to be paid to the sport, that I will do anything to get the film made. Rugby has it's own culture which I think many players benefit from, and I would like to explore that culture with the film and show non-rugby players why it's worth playing.

TIAR: What is your rugby background?

AH: I started playing rugby in college. In high school I swam and played soccer and I wanted to try a new sport in college, initially I was thinking crew. However during my senior year of high school I played on the "Powder Puff" football team, where girls plays girls, and I was the running back. I absolutely loved it and I hated the fact that we couldn't tackle (it was flag football). While visiting prospective colleges, I saw women tackling each other on a field for practice at JMU (James Madison University). I asked my dad what that was, and he said rugby. That was the first time I had ever seen rugby played, and thought it might be interesting.

When I went to Virginia Tech, I found out there was a women's rugby team. Crew dues were $500 and they got up at 6 am for practice. Rugby dues were $50 and practice was at 5 pm. I chose rugby, and never looked back. I played for 4 years, flanker for the first 2 and center for the second 2. Captained the team my Junior and Senior year and served as President of the club for one of those. I made the U-23 MARFU squad in 2003, the first time I was introduce to higher level rugby.

Although the VTWRFC struggled with being a social or competitive team, which was sometimes frustrating, I loved every moment. I spent more time with the rugby team then studying for my engineering degree (first career), but I wouldn't trade that for a second. It's a part of who I am and why I love the game, and why I want to give back by creating more exposure for women's rugby.

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