Documentary shows that hockey can bridge religious and gender gaps
Thin Ice takes place as far away from organized hockey as you can imagine. In the northern region of India, just south of the Himalaya mountains, a young woman named Dolkar loves to play ice hockey. She dreams of competing in India’s annual National Ice Hockey Tournament, which is only open to males. But she will not be deterred.
The documentary starts with a protest. Dolkar and other teenage girls show up to the National Tournament, demanding to play. They are turned away, almost threateningly, by men who tell the girls that sports is no place for them, and that they should learn to dance instead.
Dolkar lives at a boarding school, and could become the first person in her family to finish her education. She would be totally justified to immerse herself in her studies and forget hockey, as education is her only real path to upward mobility. But like any good hero, Dolkar won’t give up even though almost everyone urges her to. She constructs her own sticks out of scrap wood, finds secondhand skates for her classmates and tries to build a rink. She succeeds in finding an American woman named Deb to coach them. Dolkar — a Buddhist — realizes that she does not have enough classmates for a team, so she bravely ventures over the mountains to a neighboring region to recruit Muslim girls to play.
Dolkar does all of this with no guarantee that her team will get to compete in the tournament. But of course they get to compete; otherwise, it would be a really short documentary. Even still, nothing goes smoothly for Dolkar and her rag-tag group of hockey players.
Thin Ice is an often-told, but still sweet, story of the underdog who follows their dream and refuses to get discouraged by others. Though at 57 minutes, it feels a little longer than it needs to be, as if director Hakan Bertas was really trying to push his documentary to be an hour long. Some of the shots or scenes are stretched out more than necessary, feeling more like filler than content.
Also, while we get to know Dolkar pretty well, we never really get to know their American coach, Deb, or her thoughts on teaching a group of mostly beginners. Nor do we ever hear from Dolkar’s classmates or the Muslim girls that join the team. Why is playing hockey important to them? Dolkar is a great protagonist to focus on, but Thin Ice would have been better if we got to hear more voices from a group whose voices are usually quelled.
Still, seeing what Dolkar has to go through just to play shinny with her classmates is inspiring — when was the last time you built a hockey stick from scratch? — and the action at the tournament reminds us how much fun hockey is to play, and shows us that sports can bring people together, regardless of language, region or religion.
What I like about Thin Ice: There is something both surreal and awesome about seeing hockey played in India with mountains as the backdrop. It is also uplifting to see a group of young women in a country where women don’t have many rights work together to play a sport they love.
What I do not like about Thin Ice: It feels a little long in some places. Other points of view — or other voices with the same point of view — would have been welcome.
Thin Ice fits well with this month’s “Hockey is For Everyone” imitative by the NHL, and even though the film is now a decade old, it is worth watching — if you can find it. Thin Ice was made in Sweden and was not widely released. You can buy a copy (it is expensive), but I recommend finding a school or public library near you to see if you can borrow it instead. In the meantime, check out the Thin Ice trailer on YouTube. ■