Louis Hollis directs ‘Shrovetide’.
For two days each year a 900-year-old ball game, Shrovetide, is played out across the hedgerows, streets, rivers, and back gardens of the small English market town of Ashbourne.
Words from Louis below.
Louis, what drew you to making a film about Shrovetide?
LH: We set out to try and capture what this incredible sport means to those who play it and keep it alive. Ashbourne’s Shrovetide ball game is one of the best-preserved examples of ‘mob football’ anywhere in the world. In the modern-day, protecting the game has not been straightforward with increased media presence, larger crowds, and greater attention to health and safety. All of these increase the pressure on hosting a game that is well known for its physicality. The message I heard so often was that, although outside spectators are welcome, they need to be respectful. It’s a local game for the local people and I hope this is what the film conveys.
We wanted to make a film that puts the audience not just onto the field of play but also into the minds of the players, young and old, to show how much is at stake in keeping the game alive.
I think anyone who grows up playing football, or any other sport for that matter, eventually realises (early in my case) that dream of being a professional is never actually going to happen. However, in Ashbourne, you can play for the highest Shrovetide prize for as long as your body will allow you to. Show enough years of commitment and you may just be given the rare and coveted chance to score a ball by your teammates. It’s not about individual talents but dedication to the team and playing for one another. We wanted to make a film that puts the audience not just onto the field of play but also into the minds of the players, young and old, to show how much is at stake in keeping the game alive.
The game takes place in wintry February and is played over two days, eight hours each day. Half of the game or more takes place in almost complete darkness.
You were playing your own game trying to capture the modern game of Shrovetide. How were you prepared for that?
LH: The documentary was filmed over three consecutive years. On the third attempt in 2020, we set out to try and capture a full game in its entirety, just before the first national lockdown. DoP Kurt Riddell and I managed to capture most of the key moments over the two days but it was a real challenge. Keeping up with the play can be extremely difficult, you’re essentially going on instinct as to where you position yourself. The ball could be stuck in the river one moment and then racing through streets the next. The players are incredibly fit and keeping up with them while carrying a camera for hours isn’t easy. Our preparation was aided hugely thanks to the amazing guidance and knowledge passed on by some of the locals we interviewed.
The game takes place in wintry February and is played over two days, eight hours each day. Half of the game or more takes place in almost complete darkness. We had to be prepared to follow the ball wherever it went and ready to jump well out of the way if the play veered towards us. I fell over within about 30 minutes on the first day and only avoided smashing my camera and rented lenses by landing on my knees.
What are you reading at the moment?
LH: Just finished book one of ‘Dune’, it’s such an intriguing and ancient sci-fi world that Frank Herbert created. I’m excited to read more and I appreciate Denis Villeneuve’s adaptation even more on second viewing. I’m sure they’ll still be playing ‘Shrovetide’ in the year 10,191 when ‘Dune’ is set, hopefully, a relative will be around to wheel me out from the freezer so I can watch.
- Director of Photography
- Anders Singh Vesterdahl
- Nice Shirt Films
- Production Company