After awakening from a coma,
an out-of-shape American businessman confronts the past -
and an army of oil wrestlers -
to become the most unlikely gladiator
in one of the oldest sports in the world.
OIL WRESTLING, the mesmerizing and dangerous national sport of Turkey, is one of the oldest sports in the world, dating back almost 5,000 years to ancient Egypt and Assyria. I first encountered it in the summer of 1999, while I was producing COUP, a documentary film about the Turkish military coups d'etat. I traveled to Edirne to see 1,500 huge gladiators do battle at the tournament of Kirkpinar, the "Olympics of oil wrestling" which has been held every summer since 1346. The physicality of the sport is amazing, and so are its unique rules and rituals: the wrestlers wear leather trousers made out of the hide of water buffalo, and they douse themselves in olive oil before each match to make the struggle more difficult and dangerous.
Twelve years later, back in America, my friend Gokhan, a 40-year old businessman, got into a horrible motorcycle accident that left him in a coma for two weeks - and as soon as he woke up, he announced that he was going to become an oil wrestler. The idea made zero sense to me: his accident had shattered his legs and left him with metal in his hips; he was far too old; he was extremely overweight; he was living in America; and he had never wrestled before in his life. It sounded so crazy that I thought that he must have suffered a brain injury.
What I did not know, however, was that Gokhan was absolutely determined to reshape his body and to actually transform himself into a modern-day American gladiator. We filmed him not only wrestling with his own demons, but soon, against huge opponents. And in the process, we found that there was a deep trauma which kept him motivated through tremendous adversity. As he begins to win, Gokhan finds the true meaning of commitment to family, roots, and tradition. And at long last, on a sweltering day in July, with temperatures reaching 107 degrees, he finds himself about to step out onto the hero's field of Kirkpinar, to douse himself in oil, and to learn what it is to be a champion.
The Oil Wrestler covers a sport that is virtually unknown outside of the region, and it features remarkable footage inside the gypsy camps and wrestlers' remote villages. Turkey has been very much in the news this year, and the lead character's unlikely, funny, sad, heroic, unusual "mid-life coming-of-age" story - and the global appeal of sports and culture - brings the area's rich history and tradition to life for audiences worldwide. The Oil Wrestler is narrated by WWE wrestler and former JCW / NWA World Heavyweight Champion Colt Cabana, and features animations by VFX wizard Steve Ziolkowski (Life of Pi; The A-Team; Men in Black II; Fast & Furious; Night at the Museum).
- Brian Felsen
Director/Producer, The Oil Wrestler