Ping Pong

PBS Premiere: Sept. 9, 2013Check the broadcast schedule »

Filmmaker Interview

Hugh Hartford: Ping Pong is a film that follows players from around the world as they travel to Inner Mongolia to compete in the over eighties class of the world table tennis championships.

Anson Hartford: It's a sports movie, a sports documentary, and it's a character film. It's actually also about these people and their drive to win. And the power of the mind that at that point in your life you're having to overcome a lot of challenges. And, and so how the tenacity of the human spirit can overcome adversity.

The narration drive of the film is the ping-pong match which you've got to keep going. But actually what's most interesting is the people and the players. The last category of this competition is 85 years plus. And it was set in China. So when you have somebody of that age who's traveled from somewhere on the planet, usually a couple of thousand miles, to China, the averages are that they're going to be a really interesting person. They've done a lot to get there, they have some kind of zest for life.

Hugh Hartford: Yeah, the competitiveness at senior level, in that 80-plus, is exactly the same competitiveness in, in younger age groups. It's that they really want to win. It's the same competitive drive as a 20 year-old.

Anson Hartford: They have such and sort of a lust for life and I hope it's in the film I'm pretty sure. And there's sort of an inspiring feel to the film. And in real life that's, that's true - we'd meet them and you'd go away energized and sort of you know you feel good. So actually being with them was great fun.

Hugh Hartford: We're brothers so we obviously share grandparents and we never really got to know them as adults. They passed away when we were too young. So I never really had a sort of adult relationship with someone over the age of 80 as person to person. And I think something that's changed now from making the film, after spending time with these people is, I mean it sounds so simple, but getting to really know issues and the fears and hopes and what makes you tick just doesn't change. That's all there, the same.

And that's a very reassuring thing. So there's that sort of feeling that someone in 80-plus, 90-plus - the issues and the sort of the thinking, their thinking is slightly different, but no, it's...that's exactly the same.

Anson Hartford: They've just got more years under their belt.

Hugh Hartford: In the cinema release in the U.K. they put a lot of table tennis tables in the foyers of the cinemas and then afterwards they'd just always be packed and there'd be lots of people playing. So the part of the outreach in the distribution in the U.K. has been about showing films in community centers and also nursing homes and retirement villages around the country. And playing the film and then supplying table tennis equipment. And it seems that it's a very good way of inspiring people to play. It was never an intention, but it seems like people are starting to use the film which we're very, very happy about, 'cause it seems to get people playing and get people moving.

Anson Hartford: What's wonderful is we're hearing this sort of table tennis leagues are being set up in the most surprising places for town and villages and communities around the U.K. and hopefully that will happen in the States.