A Knight’s Tale is an impeachable, and veritable cinematic joy for the ages. However its monthly presence on Film4’s schedule necessitates a new project to fill the rest of our collective days. Luckily something has arrived that not only celebrates the medieval battles of old, but also champions the societal evolution we’ve achieved in the centuries since. In May 2014 history was made in Bellmonte, Spain, and the two-man team at Total Wallop were there to witness it. Welcome to Iron Maidens.
The groundbreaking achievement was another win for gender equality in the 21st century. Its source was full contact medieval fighting. For the first time in the history of The IMCF World Championships, women were allowed to enter. Although not a titan of an event on the global sporting calendar, it’s another hurdle that has been cleared.
Iron Maidens followed six of these pioneering warriors as they prepared to take the honour of world champion last year. Following this eclectic set of characters during the tournament, the director Matt Ralph highlights how these part timers balance their professions and their sport. When reviewing the former, the incongruence of these worlds fascinates. For example, Rachel is an environmental student, Sophie’s a chicken farm manager in New Zealand, whilst Lisa is a court reporter and mum of two from California.
There’s a temptation from others to indulge in hyperbole surrounding the “wacky” “zaniness” of such a “hobby”. However with these fighters, it’s clear that there’s a true and honest passion for their sport. There’s pain and elation, victory and defeat, passion and heartache – these are stories of belief and validation. They are the Iron Maidens.
If you were to continue to indulge in condescension, the retort arises as to “why would they partake in such a violent hobby?” As can be seen in the clip above, there are more relaxing things to do. This is full throttle combat with poleaxes, long swords and shields with little more than steel to protect them from serious injury. The filmmakers call this “Game of Thrones meets Ultimate Fighting Championship”, and they’re not far wrong. It’s an extreme sport that requires all warriors, male or female, to endure brutal and intense combat.
A fascinating arena of intrigue, but as a film site, our duty is to film not sport, so why are we here? Iron Maidens is the first documentary of its kind to observe the subculture of medieval full contact fighting. Observing the sport’s leading world body, the IMCF, the filmmakers are focusing upon the cream of the medieval combat world. These may seem akin to a Game of Thrones tribute troupe but this is a unique event that requires skill, determination and genuine athleticism. The blessing of this sport is that it combines the intoxicating athleticism with a humble, geeky core to deliver characters we can relate to, and champion. And lo, the appeal becomes universal.
Now to the filmmakers themselves. The production company behind Iron Maidens consists of just director Matt Ralph, and camera operator David Symmons. Their connection to this rather niche area came through Ralph’s BBC3 documentary Knight Club back in 2013. In their original piece, he followed the British team (Rob, Dan, Gwilyn and Sam) at the Battle of the Nations 2013, the world’s biggest and most brutal period tournament held in the French countryside. It’s clear the director understands this market, and he’s kept close ties with the industry ever since. When the opportunity arose in 2014, they packed their bags and began to shoot.
They now turn to Indiegogo for aid, having shot 80% of the film sans funds. The aim of their crowdsourcing is to raise a fairly hefty £18,500 in under two months. These funds will be focused on the final shooting of the Iron Maidens in their natural habitats, as well as editing, mixing, voiceover and legal costs. Oh woe, the hidden costs of post-production perfection.
At the point of writing the team are only a fraction of the way to their goal, thus your support could prove vital no matter how big or small. As with all our Making It Big selections, we will never dictate or force you to donate, mainly as there’s no physical way we can. As always we’ll ask you to judge the project on its merits and look as to whether you want to support it or not.
From our purview, this is a passion project through and through. The scant funding and support from any wider governing body or selection of backers goes to prove the filmmakers are here on unselfish grounds. Following their initial connection with the market in 2013, it’s clear the love has never faded. Even more importantly, this is a genuine moment of history. Thus my lords, my ladies, and everybody else here not sitting on a cushion, this is one to support.
(The sole video trailer can’t be embedded, so click the blue button to watch).