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Filmmaker chronicles quest for acceptance

Adia Waldburger, Of the Record staff

As doors opened and then quickly slammed shut for women ski jumpers all over the world, Cara Perlman stood in the shadows, camera rolling.

The New York-based filmmaker is a relative newcomer to the sport’s plight, but understands the history. She has become fully engaged in the women’s tough climb to the top and their relentless pursuit for acceptance into the Olympics, a place where they are clearly not welcome.

"The thing that bothers me, is I don’t want to see those talented people not get their chance," Perlman said.

Perlman began making the film last April, after completing a short piece with some of the male ski jumpers. When she heard of the gender equity on the other side of the sport, she just knew it was the story that needed to be told.

"It’s such an underdog story," Perlman said.

And thus, the film, "Fly Girls" was born.

The women are no strangers to media and even films. A few years ago, a college student completed a film on the girls, but when Perlman is finished, this will be the first feature-length film by an established filmmaker.

Perlman has been there for all of the big moments. She was there for the jubilation after the girls were admitted into the International Ski Federation (FIS) 2009 World Championships, and shared the devastation of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) decision to reject women’s ski jumping as an Olympic event at the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver, Canada. She sat in as top-ranked jumper Jessica Jerome had knee surgery following a fall in Colorado earlier this season. She even documented the departure of head coach Casey Colby after allegations about his behavior forced his resignation.

Last week, she was in Canada interviewing Cathy Preistner Allinger, the senior vice president of the Vancouver Olympic Organizing Committee (VANOC) about the women’s prospects for still making it into the games. This week, she moved one more rung up on the leadership ladder, speaking with Gilbert Felli, Olympic Games executive director about the women’s issues.

She has also spoken, on numerous occasions, to the local players in the ski jumping saga, like DeeDee Corradini, Peter Jerome and Alan Johnson. The new womens’ coach, Larry Stone, is also slated to speak with Perlman.

"I’ve been on it," Perlman said. "It’s become my life’s work, really, and I love the girls."

She first became a fan of the sport in 2002, when a friend invited Perlman to watch her son jump in Lake Placid, N.Y. She was hooked.

"I liked the scene a lot," Perlman said. "I was impressed by how disciplined the boys were."

Her interest eventually led to a short film about the men, which opened many other doors, She had an interview with an ESPN executive, who showed the film highlights as the extreme sport of the month and did an athlete profile on World Cup jumper Clint Jones.

Perlman, who has won a Guggenheim for her work as a sculptor in the past, is hoping to add that same creative and artistic flair to "Fly Girls." She has already gathered hours of tape of the girls jumping and she plans to use it as a backdrop to the main storyline, displaying "how gorgeous the sport is."

"I like going to the hill, and going to lunch, hanging out with the camera," Perlman said.

She says that, thus far, it has been some people’s willingness to talk and their passion about the situation that has made the filmmaking process run smoothly.

"I felt very attracted to people out here," Perlman said. "I feel like we’re all on the same page."

She calls herself personable and says that she’s, "no one’s mother," and feels this has allowed her to get as close to the story as possible.

"I identify with them," Perlman said.

After her meeting with Felli, Perlman and her crew of two other shooters will capture an international competition, allowing her the opportunity to interview some of the top jumpers from around the world.

She is unsure exactly where the film will finish. She envisions the women somehow getting into the Vancouver Games and would then end the film there, but right now, there are no guarantees. She needs more funding if the film’s story takes a year or more to play out. Time, labor, travel and other expenditures all add to the filming costs, so logically, she can only film as long as the money is available.

"For me, it’s essential to get anything I could," Perlman said.

Perlman plans to enter the film at Sundance and other film festivals upon its completion. Her producer used to work for the Sundance Channel, so he hopes that at least they will give her a shot. She might also try the science television channel route as well.

Until then, she will follow the "flying women," around the world, in hopes that very soon they land on the world’s biggest sports stage.

For more information on contributing to Perlman’s project, contact her via e-mail at seaperl@verizon.net.


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