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Mystic Ball
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by Jason Whyte

"Anyone up for some Chinlone?"
5 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2006 VANCOUVER INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL. Do you have a passion that not many other people share, let alone even know about? For those who know me, I’m passionate about films and especially film festivals, yet when I explain to people that I’m using three to four weeks of my life to partake in a film festival (in this case, the one in Vancouver BC), I get strange looks and bewilderment. Why am I not going to Hawaii or Disneyland like everyone else? Well, the film festival experience is my vacation preference, and while it may not mean much to them, it really means something to me, and like all passionate people, it must be lived out and to the fullest.

I say this because Greg Hamilton must have the same problem as I do. Here is a man who has found his calling and devotes a good portion of his life to living out his dream of playing the Burmese sport Chinlone, yet it is a sport that is simply unheard of, and he probably gets bizarre looks when he’s kicking a straw-ball around in a Toronto park.

Every year for a few months, Greg travels to Myanmar where the sport is a national pastime. Over a millennium old, you can see the sport being played all over the country and especially the city of Mandalay, where Greg has been competing for over 20 years.

The sport of Chinlone involves dance and kick-ball (think of enhancing our Canadian/American hackey-sack vibe) in a circle of about five or six people. There is no real competition and no winners and losers; the talent lies in keeping the ball in the air, in the circle of people. Therein lays the power of the game…it’s about HOW you perform and how you work with your fellow players to simply have fun and feel good. And isn’t that what sports should be about?

Watching “Mystic Ball” I found myself truly interested in Greg’s annual journey and it was interesting to see how he connected with a group of fellow Chinlone players. It’s nice to see Greg assimilate himself into the culture and become one with the sport and the team, rather than standing out as someone who is just visiting the country. Greg also finds friends who teach him the game, especially Su Su Hlaing, the “Golden Princess”, a beautiful young woman who is regarded as the best player in the country.

The documentary spans several years of Greg playing, and it’s nice to see careful editing and non-intrusive angles to show what he loves and why. For the most part, we see the action in wide-shots around the circle in which he plays to see how he connects with the other players in the circle. There is an especially powerful scene where Greg hurts his leg, yet decides to keep playing despite a possible injury. The show must go on!

There are so many great moments in “Mystic Ball”, from the Chinlone scenes to Greg learning the language and meeting interesting people in the process, and yet my favourite moment in the film is right at the end, where Greg is playing freestyle Chinlone with a group of locals. “This is my favourite spot in the world,” he says, and as the camera slowly pulls back we see Greg playing the sport with full attention and dedication. He is happy, full of energy and life. He is at peace.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=15358&reviewer=350
originally posted: 09/15/06 03:22:48
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Vancouver Film Festival For more in the 2006 Vancouver Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2007 Portland Film Festival For more in the 2007 Portland Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

8/08/07 Leon McDonald fascinating and inspirational 5 stars
7/29/07 James Ward Superb film. Totally mesmerising and wonderful insight into a lost and troubled country. 5 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  N/A (NR)

UK
  N/A

Australia
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Directed by
  Greg Hamilton

Written by
  (documentary)

Cast
  Greg Hamilton
  Su Su Hlaing



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