THIS.IS.PROGRESS began life as a 22 minute documentary short released in 2016 by Elixir Media Production. The film looked at British independent wrestling promotion PROGRESS Wrestling’s rise to the forefront of the growing scene, on the eve of their biggest show to date at the historic Brixton Academy. With the short serving as a proof-of-concept for a crowdfunding campaign via Kickstarter, over six hundred PROGRESS fans backed the project and the original funding goal of £25,000 to produce a feature length version of the film was successfully reached and surpassed. This allowed film maker Dale Beaumont-Brown to not only re-cut and extend the short, but to also shoot a large amount of new footage that loosely charts the promotion’s year after the Brixton Academy show.
While the original piece focused on five subjects (owners Jim Smallman, Glen Joseph & Jon Briley, wrestler Mark Haskins and PROGRESS ‘Ultra’ superfan Paul Lee), the feature length film also gives us insight into additional figures within the PROGRESS family, notably wrestlers Dahlia Black, Jack Sexsmith and Jimmy Havoc. These are interspersed throughout the latter half of the film as it follows the promotion to their first show overseas at WrestleMania weekend in Orlando last year, and then onto another iconic British venue a few months later in the Alexandra Palace. We also see how the continued growth of PROGRESS has impacted the lives of the three co-owners since the original film, and the big changes that have come professionally and personally for Mark Haskins and his family.
The footage, as anyone who watched the original short can attest, is of a very high quality and the slow motion in-ring shots in particular look exceptional. This of course extends to the new footage and the whole production has a very professional feel as Elixir prepares to list the film for festival competition and a theatrical release. Some of the new interviews provide the film with its most heartfelt moments, notably Dahlia Black talking about what PROGRESS means to her and how much it has changed her and partner TK Cooper’s lives since leaving New Zealand to make names for themselves on the British wrestling scene. Another such moment sees co-owner Glen Joseph emotionally saying goodbye to the world of musical theatre and his role as Buddy Holly so he can concentrate on PROGRESS full-time.
There’s also a good deal of focus on Mark Haskins, who experienced the biggest high of his career at the Brixton Academy by winning the PROGRESS title, only to be forced to vacate the championship through injury a few months later. At the time the injury seemed career threatening, and the film follows Haskins as he meets with doctors and discusses with his family what the injury means for their future. But while many of the added scenes are a welcome addition and can count amongst the film’s highlights, expanding the scope of the piece hasn’t been a complete success. While the original film had a clear focus, the feature length version feels somewhat disjointed in places. The new points of view all provide some excellent stories in their own right, but do little for the overall narrative.
That’s not to say any of these scenes are superfluous, just that they contribute to a slightly muddled second half of the film. The meat and bones of the piece are the continuing upward trajectory of the promotion to Brixton and beyond and the conundrum Mark Haskins and his family are faced with post-injury, and it’s to these two stories to which the film returns to bring the documentary to a close. But my personal misgivings about the structure aside, it’s an entertaining watch. The film pulls back the curtain to a degree and shows fans the work that goes into putting on a show, from performers and promoters alike, as well us giving viewers a perspective in what PROGRESS means to the wrestlers and some of its most ardent fans. It offers some great insight into the operation of a promotion that, for all its detractor’s talk of a false punk rock image, is still largely ran by three mates and retains a strong connection with its supporters. Overall, THIS.IS.PROGRESS is a well produced piece that comes across with sincerity and a passion to equal the fervour of the PROGRESS fanbase.
THIS.IS.PROGRESS is set to hit video on demand services later this year.