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Uphill All the Way

Distributed by Women Make Movies, 462 Broadway, Suite 500WS, New York, NY, 10013; 212-925-0606
Produced by Khin May Lwin
Directed by Khin May Lwin and Robert Nassau
VHS, color, 79 min.
Jr. High - Adult
Adolescence, Sports, Social Work, Rehabilitation

Reviewed by Amy Brunvand, University of Utah Marriott Library

Highly Recommended  Highly Recommended   

Five teenaged girls and three adult trip leaders spend their summer on a vehicle-supported mountain bike trip 2500 miles along the Continental Divide from Montana to the Mexican border. The girls are students from the DiSistro School, a boarding school for troubled teenagers and the trip is undertaken as therapy. The group has agreed that they canít continue on if one person quits, so they have to work through frustration and personality clashes in order to achieve their goal.

At first itís hard to believe that these appealing teens with angelic faces are in serious emotional trouble, but the difficulties of the trip bring out their demons. When the girls are in a good mood they speak to the camera articulately and matter-of-factly about past drug use, conflicts with their parents and run-ins with the law. When they loose their emotional bearings, the tough faÁade dissolves and all of their turmoil, self-doubt and insecurity bubbles to the surface.

One girl runs away. The trip leader grimly, but competently contacts the police. When the girl is found and brought back her whole body is rigid with misery. She can barely force out a whisper to explain that she is upset because her birthday is coming. It turns out that she is remembering the anniversary of being raped. The other girls in the group use techniques they have learned at school to help her cope with her feelings. They are supportive but rationally tough minded. Eventually they persuade her rejoin the group and continue the ride.

As the journey continues the same girls who were able to offer such sensible help to their friend suffer breakdowns of their own. When they reach their limits they lash out with violence or hurtful words, they steal things or refuse to ride further. But as they gain confidence with their physical abilities they also gain confidence dealing with their turbulent emotions and learning to make cooperative decisions as a group. Towards the end of the trip it starts pouring rain. The girls stand huddled together under their rain ponchos sobbing in frustration. Then they climb back on their bicycles and ride onward with tears still streaming down their faces. Itís a major victory.

The honesty of this documentary is astounding. There is no attempt to sugarcoat the physical difficulties of the trip or hide the rocky emotional state of the riders. Counselors and therapists will find much to discuss in this portrayal of successful adventure therapy. Since the trip leader is shown dealing competently with very difficult group dynamics, it would be educational viewing for anybody with outdoor leadership ambitions. The film is also appropriate for teenagers. The extreme emotions and behaviors of the girls in the film are exaggerated examples of the same insecurities many adolescents feel. It is inspiring that this group of fragile seeming girls is tough enough to finish the trip.

Awards: CINE Golden Eagle Award