Before she makes her debut at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, Canadian freestyle wrestler Leah Callahan will have gone viral.
The 24-year-old wrestler from Mackenzie was the focus of a documentary, The Sticking Place, by directors Josephine Anderson and Brittany Baxter, which is scheduled for release online before the games begin on July 27. The documentary has an interactive format to allow viewers control of how they see it and allows them free access.
"It was definitely a bit nerve-wrecking, going into a house and having a film crew there and knowing this was going to be for their movie," said Callahan about the film that journeys from her loss at nationals all the way through to her Olympic Trials win. "But it was good. It kind of made me deal with some pressures early on that were going to be there regardless."
One of those pressures was performing in front of the large crowds at the wrestling venue in London, not to mention the millions of Canadians who will tune in Aug. 9 to watch Callahan compete from preliminaries in the morning to finals at night.
"All those external pressures of 'What if?' of having people there and wanting to perform for them and for yourself I was able to deal with early, because knowing that the movie crew was going to be there made me have to focus on dealing with that and knowing it couldn't be a factor in my brain," said Callahan.
The grappler's nerves of steel surprised her coaches at the Canadian Olympic Trials, who were worried the added pressure of having the documentary crew following her would be too much, said Callahan's mom Molly.
When Baxter approached Callahan after the national championship in March 2011 the idea of a documentary intrigued the wrestler, but she had one stipulation - Callahan needed final approval of what went into the final cut.
"I don't think I would've agreed to do it if it wasn't like that," said Callahan. "I have final say when I see the clips and stuff and just sort of know what voiceovers they're using.
"Because of this I could speak very openly and candidly and know that nothing was going to be taken out of context and misconstrued, so that trust was there," she added.
Anderson said it was a fun ride to go along with Callahan on the nine-month journey from losing to Ontarios Ohenewa Akuffo - the 10-time Canadian champion - to when she finally beat her last December in Winnipeg.
"Watching [the initial] competition was really intense," said Anderson. "Leah lost to Ohenewa in the last second of the match, so it was a sort of devastating loss."
The dramatic potential of an underdog rising to the challenge to beat the competition, combined with Callahan's personality convinced Anderson and Baxter to add the project to their production company Moosestash Films.
"She's such an interesting person; she's just a very raw and honest person," said Anderson. "We felt that she was just so close, yet just missed it, but had this year to train and work towards facing Ohenewa again at the Olympic qualifiers, we just felt like that made for a great story and decided to take it on.
"She is very bold and at every moment of her journey she's considering what choice to make, whether what she's doing is the right thing to do, that's what makes it interesting to us," added the Vancouver-based filmmaker. "She's an extremely thoughtful person and it makes her journey more interesting because it's not just your typical sports story of someone trying to achieve their dream - she is trying to do that and that's what makes it juicy - but the kind of person she is, is so open and so critical that it's extremely interesting to see the sort of process she goes through and navigates her own journey."
The project should be up and running for Internet users to view by the end of June.
"It's hosted in a website and it's up to the user to explore as they feel inclined, so it could be anywhere from two minutes to an hour, depending on the user's own personal preferences. It's sort of like a choose your own adventure."
The presence of Anderson and Baxter at practices, meets and in her life was also nice for another reason.
"They were kind of a neat, objective outside perspective that I could kind of vent to either about practice or tournaments or experiences and get that out there and kind of talk with them for the sake of the movie," said Callahan. "It was also nice to have those outside supporters that were invested in you're journey, but not directly involved like my coaches or teammates."
Anderson concurred about the bond of friendship that's developed between the three women while working on such an intimate project.
"It's something that really means a lot to us to be a part of her support network," said Anderson. "We made a personal film for her sort of wishing her good luck for her qualifiers against Ohenewa at the end of 2011."
The compilation video was clips of Callahan's friends and family wishing her good luck at the Olympic qualifier.
"It just meant so much to her and for us it was a cool privilege to be able to provide that for her," said Anderson. "It's basically to take her story and show it to her because none of us get to experience that in our daily lives so it's cool as filmmakers to be able to share that with her as well."
Overall, Callahan said she's excited for the finished product to hit the Internet.
"It's going to be kind of neat to have it out there," said Callahan, who still keeps in touch with the directors. "I think they portray me as a person very well."