The full title of Half the Road says it all; The Passion, Pitfalls, and Power of Women’s Professional Cycling. The documentary, written and directed by first time filmmaker Kathryn Bertine, addresses an array of topics related to the world of women’s pro cycling. The problem lies in the fact that by tackling so many issues Half the Road tries too hard to do too much and thus lacks focus. Also, due to the subject matter the documentary will more than likely only appeal to a niche audience consisting of sports and cycling enthusiasts.
Half the Road covers a great deal of material and features interview footage from a large number of people from the cycling and athletic community. Among the many interviewees are an assortment of professional female cyclists from around the world, Richard Carmona, the former U.S. Surgeon General (2002-2006), Brian Cookson, a spokesman for the UCI (Union Cycliste Internationale), several corporate sponsors, a doctor, coach, Kathrine Switzer (the first woman to run the Boston Marathon in 1967), Iron Man triathlete Chrissie Wellington, a lesbian academic and cyclist and her partner, and there’s even a quick sound bite from Grey’s Anatomy star and cycling enthusiast Patrick Dempsey.
Among the issues discussed in Half the Road include sexism in the sport, a call to action for reinstatement of a women’s Tour de France, a historical perspective of women’s cycling and its role in the suffragette movement, corruption amid the ranks of the governing body of the UCI, the importance of sponsorship and the media, the ongoing struggle for pay equality, the difficulties small nations face trying to qualify for the Olympics, the problem of doping, the dangerous nature of the sport which is illustrated using a couple of sequences featuring montages of biking accidents and a memorial depicting many of the women who lost their lives while participating in professional racing.
Early on in the film the connection between feminism and cycling is made quite clear. There’s even a quote by Susan B. Anthony which refers to biking as an important element in terms of its role in the beginning of the women’s movement. The bicycle is depicted as a symbol of freedom and equality. Half the Road also addresses the changes brought about by the U.S. government’s introduction of Section Nine which was aimed at assuring equal access to school sporting programs for both male and female students alike. The documentary also discusses the inane myths and bogus medical concerns that were present in the early 20th century (i.e. if a woman runs for too long her uterus will fall out).
One of the film’s major flaws is that it’s too long and the gets bogged down in politics and political rhetoric. Viewers may also end up feeling overwhelmed by all the information rather than educated about the topics covered. With that being said, filmmaker Kathryn Bertine does succeed in making the case that sexism is rampant in women’s professional cycling. Half the Road also achieves in illustrating the steadfast dedication and determination of professional female cyclists who go above and beyond in the pursuit of excellence in their chosen sport.
Half the Road is available now on DVD.