We speak to Caroline Rowland about directing First, the official film of the London Olympics that follows the stories of 12 first time olympians
What inspired you to direct First?
I became increasingly preoccupied with making the Official Film of the London 2012 Olympic Games after making the films for London’s successful bid. It took an eternity to secure the rights and the challenges of raising the finance meant the film teetered on a knife edge until the very last moments. In hindsight though, there was probably never any doubt that this was the film I was destined to make. I’m passionate about the drama and humanity of sport and my persistence in trying to make the film was entirely driven by the stories I knew would lie at the heart of young athletes – and at the heart of every one of us.
What challenges did you come across in making the film?
Trying to be in 3 places at once! Firstly across continents in the six weeks leading up to the Games and then directing 3 film crews scattered across the Olympic Park and off-site Olympic Venues!
Have you always had a passion and interest in sport? If so, why?
Yes, absolutely! I was an elite swimmer with Olympic aspirations in the late eighties, my dad was a UK decathlete in the 50’s and I grew up with a love of all sports. I ride horses, ski, run, play golf, still swim from time to time and will give any sport a go! For me, sport is representative of what it is to be human! It is the most visceral reflection of the pursuit of victory and defeat over oneself (and others).
In the film you follow the lives of 12 first time olympians – did you find yourself really liking any particular one?
It’s impossible to have favourites! They all inspired and elated me. Their challenges have been different, their personalities contrasting, their talents varied – but every one of them shares the single-minded commitment to being the best they can be. And that’s what I love about all of them!
How well did you get to know the athletes?
In the 6 weeks leading up to the London Olympic Games, I was lucky enough to spend time with the athletes in their home environments in Britain, Ireland, the US, South Africa, Kenya, India and Australia. They were all incredibly generous about letting me get under the skin of their stories. I really feel as though I went on a journey with the young athletes towards (and through) the Games, experiencing the drama with them from their initiation into the most significant sporting ‘family’ in the world. I’m delighted to continue to be in touch with several of them and feel privileged to count them amongst my friends.
What surprised you the most about the athletes?
The incredible athletes in the film are an inspiration – but they are also just normal people, plagued by the same emotional conflict and drama that every other teenager encounters on their journey to adulthood. It’s when you hear and see the events that shape the characters of the cast of Olympians that one can truly appreciate the value of finding the special talent or characteristic that inspires us to achieve our potential.
The film is very emotional. Did you find you became attached to the athletes when watching them compete?
I felt like I had a dozen children competing at the Games. I laughed, cried, cheered and punched the air at every event – it was incredible!
Did you learn anything from the athletes you were filming?
I’m not sure words can adequately describe the profound nature of the things I learnt from these young people. They are heroic, but vulnerable and at the intersection of those contrasting characteristics lies the truth of humanity. I will carry that thought with me for the rest of my life.