Prods and Pom-Poms

Sandy Row cheerleaders go to Glasgow in new documentary 

Queen's Film Theatre in Belfast is a wonderful facility. Over the years, I've seen all kinds of films and attended talks by everyone from Friends of the Earth to Bela Lugosi's biographer. But today is something else. 

The foyer is teeming with young girls, many in fancy frocks, some in cheerleading outfits. Wine and canapés are being handed out and everyone's in a great mood. It's the world premiere of Prods and Pom-Poms, a new film about Sandy Row, which is, of course, just down the road.

Many of the locals have made the trip to QFT, and the film's producer, Paul Hutchinson, pleas for the 'stars' not to shriek at the screen every time they see themselves. They don't listen, but the air of celebration is infectious and nobody really minds missing a few lines of dialogue here and there.

Prods and Pom-Poms, in case you hadn't worked it out from the title, concerns Sandy Row's amateur cheerleading team, the Sandy Row Falcons. It's a documentary, very much in the style of something you'd see on BBC Northern Ireland late on a Monday evening. 

Dinner lady Lesley Coe is the team's coach, and she's on hand at the screening to big up the filmmakers. Lesley presents Paul and director Ben Jones with framed certificates of honorary Falcons membership, and it's all a bit of a general love-in.

But for those of us who know no one on screen or behind the camera, and know next to nothing about cheerleading, how does the film play? Well, it's undeniably well shot. Ben's camera roves around the back streets and front rooms of Sandy Row, painting a vivid picture of working class Belfast life. 

The hopes, dreams and frustrations of the Falcons are well captured, and there's humour in the team's trip to Glasgow for a cheerleading contest. A stilted conference call between the coaches and the British Cheerleading Association's chairman Bob Kiralfy is bizarre comedy gold.

The film's major flaw is that it doesn't follow through on some intriguing tangents. At one point the cheerleaders complain that Belfast has left them behind, with all the hotels and car parks springing up around Sandy Row. 

The idea of a forgotten people, hemmed in by progress, is a powerful one, but Jones doesn't go further. The film also assumes an understanding of what cheerleading is, and why people do it. For all I know it's been around since Roman times – a bit of background would have been nice.

But, hey, this is a fun film, and just as compelling as much of BBCNI and UTV's recent output. 

Prods and Pom-Poms will be released on DVD later in 2009. To see the trailer go to http://vimeo.com/hooptedoodle.

Andrew Johnston

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