Have You Heard About Vaulting?


    Just when you thought the list of the world’s most bizarre sports couldn’t get any longer, up on stage come Monika Kotecka and Karolina Poryzała with their first documentary The Herd. The sport in question is called equestrian vaulting, which is defined as gymnastics and dancing on horseback, performed on the international stage. After spending five years with female vaulting club Volteo (the only such organization in Poland) Kotecka and Poryzała compose a touching piece of work about chasing dreams, friendship and sisterhood.

    The Herd has a success-story structure in which the directors follow the girls on their quest to attend an international vaulting championship. The charming and energetic band of girls have to jump through hoops (actually on a horse) to get a chance to represent their country. It is an unusual sort of coming-of-age documentary in which the sport becomes a catalyst for the girls’ growth. While preparing for the competition, they learn about themselves as well as the unforgiving and painful world of adults.

    Kotecka and Poryzała opt for a fly-on-the-wall approach letting the girls’ emotions, interactions and intimate conversations become a tool for character development. The time they spent with these girls results in completely natural behavior so their protagonists don’t need to put on any acting masks. A memorable example of this is Ola’s overly dramatic and nervous behavior, giving the impression she could cry at any moment. However, her tenacious nature that makes her eventually become a vaulting coach creates a dynamic character that’s always enjoyable to watch.

    The main topic of the film then becomes teamwork, or team dynamics, and it is understandable why the directing duo decided to always keep the group front and center. They provide occasional glimpses into each girl’s private life and family relationships, just enough to accentuate their character or to supply necessary information. Zosia is mad when coach Natalia reproaches her and she refuses to change her little brother’s dipper. Less is more in this instance, so any additional information would just make for an unnecessary digression.

    The road to success, however, has many curves and they end up delaying the conclusion of the story. By staying faithful to the portrait of a group, Kotecka and Poryzała keep a certain consistency but also restrict the amount of scenes they can capture. Narrative becomes slightly repetitive, stumbling across several roundabouts on the pursuit of the goal. Still, for all its ups and downs, there’s still enough suspense to make any Hollywood pictures jealous.

    A clean and stylistically consistent documentary, The Herd proves the artistic maturity of its two directors. It is a humble film about success, and a small film about small things that turn  out gigantic for those who choose to take part, on and off the screen.