One of the best team names I have ever come across in my ultimate career is from a youth team out of North Carolina. They call themselves Crazy Boys Doin’ Stuff. Never before have heard a team name I and thought to myself, “Yes, that’s exactly who we are as ultimate players.” Elite ultimate is that perfect mixture of 27 people crazy enough to make this unpaid, unwatched amateur sport their full time job for 6-7 months of the year. Shenanigans and hilarity ensue with these bold and strong personalities ultimate attracts. But at the highest level, at Rhino’s level, these crazy boys can put down their toys, shoulder up, and work just as hard as any professional athletic team.
My coach once said to me, “you know that the game doesn’t matter…we’ve all decided that [ultimate] is what we want to do well. It is a real and honest question whether each of us is willing to do what it takes to be the person that should be on a competitive team.” If the selection committees or captains or coaches have done their job well they’ve also ended up with a roster of 27 with one carrot hanging in front of them, the pinnacle of achievement for any ultimate player: Sarasota.
Matt Mastrantuono, documentary director and Rhino captain, follows himself and three of his closest teammates through the 2011 club ultimate season, spanning six months from the first tryouts to the team to the anticipated game to qualify for the national championships.
The Film as Film
Remember when you’re watching this that the characters are unscripted ultimate players. Mastrantuono, Mario, Seth, and Melius are shown as perfectly as they are in real life. Sometimes at a loss for words, sometimes bubbling over with them. These are people, hilarious and fallible people who want nothing more than to bring Rhino to the national championships.
The documentary isn’t solely about the steps Rhino takes on their club ultimate journey. Chasing Sarasota gives insights into track workouts and tournaments leading up to the culmination of Rhino’s season, but never was there the gut wrenching feeling that we were bearing down on the end. Lighthearted asides are added in to portray the players as they are: real people. Mastrantuono makes effort to let the nature of each character show through their personal life as well as on the field. Be it in their work, their love, or even their doctor visits understanding the personal lives of Rhino is just as important as understanding the team dynamic of elite ultimate.
One thing I was expecting, but didn’t find (maybe pleasantly so) was the anticipation about the big game as you might have in some blockbuster hit. Captain Seth Wiggins probably conveys this perfectly in his speech before the final day of play at the Northwest Regional Championships stating, “I’m happy with this season whatever happens today. We’ve produced a hell of a lot as a team and that’s something to be proud of.” Seth is speaking of what the team has built in terms of comrade and performance over the past few months. Not what is going to happen in the following four hours, but the 100’s of preceding hours of work and dedication. That’s one victory that Rhino and any ultimate team always stand upon.
The season speckled with as much fun and drama as it is with play time and training is much closer to what a real ultimate season feels like. Ultimate is not the perfect Disney film arc of overcoming adversary. Between setbacks (Mastrantuano’s own concussion) and personal triumphs (Rhino mainstay Matt Melius’s wedding) two or three tournaments happen over the course of three or four months. The film shows the excitement and pressure that a tournament can bring. Heated egos flare as things go poorly in game. Rhino player Breeze Stout even becomes physically aggressive with his own teammates and Mastrantuano can’t help but capture countless faces of frustration game after game after game. That tension does release; it ebbs and flows as it will in the week following a tournament. Rhino comes together again and again over beer, swimming holes, and long practice.
Chasing Sarasota is running the weaving stairs of Portland’s contoured infrastructure again and again. It’s growing with your friends on and off the field. It’s enjoying the strangeness of your teammates, like seeing Mario O’Brien shirtless at night around a campfire wearing mirrored wayfarers. Through injuries and track workouts viewers get an inside, sometimes very personal, look at an elite ultimate team. An hour and a half later you want to be a part of that brotherhood.
I left this film wanting to work harder. Seeing the effort and emotion that Mastrantuano captured in the portrayal of the Rhino captains made me want to get the hell off my couch and go run sprints for a solid two hours. After the credits I needed to go be a better leader for my teammates and peers. The dedication written into every scene this documentary stirs its viewers into believing in teammates and friends.
Mastrantuono raises the bar for any subsequent attempt at ultimate related film media. The quality and professionalism of the cinematography makes previous attempts such as I Bleed Black or The Blue Print look like high school AV club. While Chasing Sarasota is still a young director’s first large scale project, what Mastrantuano does as an independent filmmaker with paper thin budget is impressive. And it is a good film. While I may have chuckled at a cliche line or a seemingly MTV’s Real World-like staged discussion I certainly enjoyed this much more than 90% of the summer films coming out at your local 40-screen theater.
It tells a good story and if you like Ultimate you should seek out a way to watch this documentary. Go see the eclectic and intense world of elite Ultimate. Bring your friends to show them how real this sport really is.
If I had a dollar for every time I threw something out of or into a hotel window at a teammate I’d have at least a Benjamin. And it is important that the world learns that about this sport. Our (and when I say our I mean the entire Ultimate community) quirkiness and also our dedication to be good at this thing we call Ultimate. This sport is our passion. This sport is what elite players choose to be the best at. Hopefully, Rhino and Chasing Sarasota can show this appetite for achievement to the rest of the watching world.
It’s also important that the world knows that Ultimate is not the one with the baskets. That’s disc golf.