Jerome Thelia’s Bounce is a fascinating and thought-provoking documentary that explores why ball play is so instinctive and important to us.
According to the researchers, ‘A ball game is a microcosm of our lives’, and sport is a combination of tribalism and brilliant storytelling. That’s pretty heavy stuff (and there’s more), but the filmmakers present convincing examples.
Inspired by John Fox’s book, “The Ball: Discovering the Object of the Game,” the film begins with ethnoarcheological explorations of the ancient Aztec game of ullamaliztli (ulama). We watch Kirkwall’s Ba’ game between the Uppies and Doonies, where the halfway line is the church in the middle of town. Bounce expands to include theories of animal and human play, spectacular juggling by Michael Moschen, and finally a focus on football (both soccer and NFL).
Since play develops the pre-frontal cortex, and rough-housing develops empathy and social behavior, play may be “the central paradox of evolution, even though it seems to be without function”. What is possibly damaging is that professionalization has made ball games more about winning and commercialization and money and fame. And less about play.
Case in point: in 2010, the WSJ determined that in a 3-hour NFL game, the ball is played only 11 minutes. And one interviewee declares that American football is simply European football with violence. There are also many scenes capturing the opinions of football sociologist David Goldblatt.
The cinematography by David McLain is gorgeous. The film was put together over a number of years by these 3 long-time buddies, who had worked together on Quest interactive educational expeditions.
Other documentaries (History of Soccer and This is Not a Ball) have also covered the ancient ball games, but Bounce shows the games being played and how people make a natural ball from rubber tree sap.
Bounce is a very well-crafted film, and being a soccer fan is not required to enjoy it. After all, how many films make ethnoarcheology accessible to the average sports fan?