The Brutally Competitive (and Totally Adorable) World of Over-80s Ping Pong

By Kasia Cieplak-Mayr von Baldegg

Seniors like 100-year-old Dorothy Delow battle for the gold at the table tennis World Championship in Ping Pong, a feature documentary by Hugh and Anson Hartford. The documentary follows eight players from around the globe to the competition, which took place in China last year. More than just a heartwarming sports documentary, the film is a "cross-cultural look at old age," Hugh Hartford explains in an interview below, following the trailer and a short excerpt. The film is produced by Banyak and Britdoc Films and hits theaters in the U.K. on July 6. 

The Atlantic: How did you discover the world of the over-80s Table Tennis Championships and decide to do this film?

Hugh Hartford: I was on a budget flight in 2009 and flicking through the in-flight magazine, a picture of Dorothy Delow caught my eye. Dorothy was 97 and dressed in an Aussie sports kit. The photo was taken at the finals of the World Table Tennis Championships in Rio. The caption underneath read from the point of view of her opponent. “When I saw Dorothy being pushed up to the table in her wheel chair, I thought this was going to be an easy game. But then she pushed away the chair, stood up and beat me three games straight.” It was a sort of James Brown move, hobbling on to stage only to throw off his cape and launch into star jumps for two hours.

Representing your country in a sporting event at the age of 97, chances are you’ve got a pretty interesting story to tell, but more than that, it was this playful use of how others perceive old age that attracted me to Ping Pong. Dorothy was aware of the image she portrayed and could use this to give her a competitive edge.

 

 

See web-only content:
http://www.theatlantic.com/video/archive/2012/07/the-brutally-competitive-and-totally-adorable-world-of-over-80s-ping-pong/258988/ Dorothy Delow's son tells a joke at her birthday party

You follow a number of players from around the world. What was the process of shooting like?

We knew whoever we filmed had to make it into the later stages of the competition but also that something had to chime with their life outside of table tennis and the experiences in the competition. Very simply it's a cross-cultural look at old age, so we started by looking at the results tables from previous world championships and getting in touch with the consistently high scorers from interesting countries. After telephone interviews and meetings we built profiles of about 30 players that added something to both the sports story and the bigger stories of growing old. During the competition my hotel room walls were covered with these profiles and as the competition unfolded we would add comments and reassess whose stories were panning out. We filmed about 14 players to get to our final eight.

Did anything surprise you in the course of making the film?

There were lots of surprises. While filming with Les on an athletics track he did a headstand as part of his warm up exercises.

What do you want viewers to take away from the film?

I think it's about the power of the mind and the tenacity of hope. Terry embodied this especially; he would say, "your mind can cure your body," and they are all living proof of this.

What's next for you?

We've got lots of plans. As for other films, we're about halfway through filming a documentary about South Sudan's first National Theatre Company. And with Ping Pong, we're working on a cinema release in Canada, the U.S., and Germany.

For more information about the film, visit http://pingpongfilm.co.uk/.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/video/archive/2012/07/the-brutally-competitive-and-totally-adorable-world-of-over-80s-ping-pong/258988/