Humor, tenderness and a lot of filmmaking technique make “My Mom’s First Olympics,” the true story of a blind woman who becomes a world champion lawn bowler, a delightful, insightful documentary. Winner of the best documentary prize at the recent Haifa festival, pic avoids the schmaltz of most triumph-of-the-human-spirit tales while leaving viewers with a warm afterglow. It should get wide fest play and sell particularly well to world TV marts.
Filmed and narrated by her son Ran, Tami Carmeli’s story begins when she starts to lose her sight at age 40. Though she stoically tries to hide her problem, Ran first notices when, after a trip to India, his laundry comes out purple because his mother hasn’t distinguished the colors of his poorly dyed clothes. As she gradually goes blind, her family urges her to use a cane; instead, Tami, a librarian, learns a new profession as a massage therapist, and how to play lawn bowling for the blind.
She is so good, she becomes Israeli champion and is sent to the Para-Olympics for the disabled in Atlanta. Half the film is dedicated to her trip and the match against her arch-rival, Deirdre, a South African champion coached by her ambitious husband. Returning home, Ran starts learning photography.
Young helmer Carmeli, who has already won docu prizes, is sure-footed in filming and editing (with fine cutters Noam Waisman and Yaron Yaakobi) a subject he obviously knows well. Pic is sensitive and succinct, and he brings out his mother’s courage, cold-blooded determination and even vanity, using secondary characters including his confused grandmother and the the feared Deirdre to subtle comic effect. Music choices are very much on target, particularly a version of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” in the finale.