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Review – Woolf Women: Now or Never – “These are incredible, brave women”

Downhill skating switches ramps and skate parks for the thrill and danger of the open road. Boarders can reach speeds of 150 miles per hour on longboards while dealing with traffic and other hazards. Woolf Women – Now or Never is a documentary that captures the highs and sometimes disastrous lows five women go through in pursuit of an epic expedition to Sumela, an ancient monastery in the Pontic mountains in Turkey.

The film is part fly-on-wall road movie, part spiritual quest and the Woolf Women are led by professional world-ranking no.2 downhill skateboarder Jenny Schauerte aka Jenny Jungle. Schauerte is a charismatic, willowy, redhead, who looks a bit like a hippy, skateboarding Florence Welch. Co-director Marchella De Angelis narrates the film, and there’s a fair bit of pre-amble to the journey itself to explain how it came about, and why this is a personal journey for Jenny.

Grieving the recent and sudden death of her father, Jenny’s motivation to assemble an international pack of fellow adventurers is partly a tribute to him. She also suffers another terrible setback early on – a horrible accident, which was captured on film. Fortunately, we’re spared the immediate horror of seeing her injuries. But the sound she makes is enough to tell us she won’t be on the board anytime soon and extensive surgeries will be needed. A stark reminder of the risks involved for downhill skaters, and Jenny’s teammates have their own scars and close calls to share too.

The voiceover sometimes feels unnecessary, stifling the narrative with heavy-handed emotional beats and explaining Jenny’s determination to recover where showing it and hearing her own words would have been more effective. Despite the doc’s lean, 90-minute runtime, the film drags in places. But the story picks up pace once the international gang of women skateboarders are assembled. Along for the ride of a lifetime are Anna Pixner, Lisa Peters, Jasmijn Hanegraef, and Alejandra Salamandra who bond as boarders crossing borders through Europe in an old van.

Beyond their love of downhill skating, the Woolf Women also share ideologies and climate-conscious values which are also explored along the road. As a piece of documentary filmmaking, it’s not as compelling as the story it’s trying to tell. Like an amateur skateboarder, it’s filled with great enthusiasm but lacks sure-footedness

At times it gets bogged down in unnecessary detail like issues with paperwork at borders and spends too long on some of the bonding scenes around campfires and lake swimming. Schauerte and De Angelis also edited the film, and although the editing is competent enough – perhaps it could have benefitted from a pass by someone less close to the material.

But what is undeniable is that these are incredible, brave women. And Woolf Women works best when De Angelis steps back and puts their remarkable journey front and centre and shows them in action. Seeing them speeding down mountain roads amps up the sense of excitement as they get closer to Sumela. There’s an early episode of Girls called All Adventurous Women Do. Although it applied to a very different group of young women, the phrase sums up the Woolf Women perfectly.

Woolf Women will be in UK Cinemas from 8th June.

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