The film was pulled together in recent months to release in time for the 2022 World Championships.
August 24, 2022 by Matt Thompson in Review with comments
You could be forgiven for believing you have already seen the new disc golf documentary. Fierce became available for purchase on August 10th on the Disc Golf Network, the same platform that hosts The Holy Shot, the new film from director Josh Dikken centered on the 2021 PDGA Pro World Championships. The film is timed to release in tandem with the 2022 edition of the tournament, although its proximity to the Pierce documentary is hard to ignore.
My concern was that after the production value of Fierce took disc golf media to new heights, the inaugural PDGA Films project would feel cheap in comparison. I need not have been so concerned on their behalf. The Holy Shot rivals Fierce in its professional look and high production value, although that is where the comparison comes to an end. While Wilson Hansen and the Fierce team attempt to craft a film that walks the narrow line of broad appeal and base support, Dikken’s production is aimed squarely at the disc golf audience. Could it be seen as a ninety minute advertisement for Worlds 2022? Sure, but it’s a damn compelling advertisement.
It begins with a disc golf history lesson, ably told by a cast of disc golf’s more charismatic talking heads. Dan “Stork” Roddick appears, as well as five time world champion Juliana Korver, and the omnipresent Terry Miller. Miller, for his part, steals the show a number of times with his breadth of disc golf knowledge, willingness to be self deprecating, and obvious enthusiasm for the sport. Another scene-stealer is PDGA #067 and 1977 world champion Mark Horn, who best gives voice to the thesis of the film when he says, “there’s nothing to compare to the flight of the disc.” That kind of reverence for flight is what The Holy Shot is about, the pure joy of throwing frisbees, and is also why the historical context provided by the film works so well. It is not only James Conrad’s individual shot that is holy to disc golfers. Every Saturday morning throw has equal potential for sanctity.
The film builds to the moments all disc golf fans know: Catrina Allen’s remarkable upshot that seems destined to be the shot of the year until it isn’t, and, of course, the shot that unseats it. Dikken wisely saves the Conrad and McBeth interviews for his denouement. Conrad is soft spoken and a year later still genuinely seems stunned and grateful that he’s in this position. In spite of his famed intensity, McBeth, a little more comfortable in front of the camera, is thinking long term: “I’m happy for James to throw that shot in because I know it’s bigger than the tournament we are playing,” he says. It is an elegant response from a player that has known for years that he is as much an ambassador as he is a competitor.
The interviews with Conrad and McBeth are brief, and one of the few moments in the film that make it appear put together rather recently. Another is the one note nature of the stock footage, which appears to be almost entirely gleaned from this year’s Champions Cup, but most glaring is the lack of participation by two of the key characters in the drama, Catrina Allen and Paige Pierce. An earlier cameo by the delightful Ella Hansen showing off her 2004 Toyota Sienna only brings this lack into sharper relief.
After James and Paul exit stage left, the film fulfills its duty of providing the required amount of boosterism and excitement about what Conrad’s historic shot can do for the sport on the broader stage, and how its exposure in mainstream media will bring in the masses. There are clips of Barstool Sports discussing the shot, the SportsCenter #1 spot, and an excited local news sportscaster explaining the shot to his bemused co-hosts. In comparison to the film’s more measured moments, it has all the majesty of a marketing newsletter. For a film that feels made entirely for people already bought into the disc golf world, it feels out of place.
In the last chapter of the film, titled “Til I Die,” Dikken regains his footing and sticks the landing. Roddick and Horn speak emotionally about what the sport has meant to them and Horn’s line — “I like to think of the development of the sport as a fabric we have woven” — hits the perfect note about growth where the preceding segment has whiffed. He talks of the shot not in terms of fame or views or eyeballs but on an individual level. Even as he speaks of the hope that disc golf can get the crowds of ball golf events, Horn’s motivation is clear. Speaking of the shot, he says, “That in itself is going to make people want to try it out…We’re outside doing things that we love to do… spending time outdoors and enjoying playing with people. That’s not ever going to change.”
It is an unselfish vision of sharing the joy he has taken from the sport he loves for so long. The concluding chapter is short, only a few minutes long, but it is capped off in the film’s final moment with Ed Headrick, father of the sport, declaring that disc golf has given him “the biggest family of anyone in the world.” With his white beard, specs, and sun hat, “Steady Ed” could be any old-timer at your local park course, dispensing life wisdom and throwing Roc off every tee. It’s a beautiful thing.
The Holy Shot is available now for subscribers to the Disc Golf Network. Watch the trailer below: