Raindance 2019: Director Addison Dlott Talks ‘Queen Of The Dinosaurs: A Wrestler’s Story’

Addison Dlott and Jakob Markwardt’s short film, Queen Of The Dinosaurs: A Wrestler’s Story, gives insight into the life of Samantha Cohen, an underground professional wrestler who uses this unique artform as a means of empowerment and escapism.

Close-up Culture’s James Prestridge spoke to Addison to find out more about Queen Of The Dinosaurs and her experiences in the bizarre world of pro wrestling.

Q: With ‘Glow’ on Netflix and Viceland’s ‘The Wrestlers’ series, it feels as though there is a renewed mainstream interest in the world of pro wrestling. What drew the two of you and your team to this industry?

A: This film was made for an Ithaca College course called Documentary Workshop, taught by Dr. Ben Crane. In searching for potential topics, one of our team members came across a New York Times article called Inside the Ring of Underground Wrestling. We were intrigued by the characters: regular people by day and independent wrestlers by night.

We also knew that the visuals for a film like this would be interesting and intriguing.

Initially, we hoped to explore intergender wrestling and specifically explore women and men fighting in the ring, as there is discussion that intergender matches promote or glorify intimate partner violence.

With that in mind, we set off to make a film about a female wrestler who fights intergender matches and perhaps herself is a survivor of intimate partner violence. While we ended up taking a different direction, this idea led us to our main character, Samantha Cohen. 

Samantha Cohen in the ring. Jakob Markwardt (behind Samantha) and Steven Stewart (right) filming.

Q: From the thousands of indie pro-wrestlers out there, why did you pick Samantha Cohen as the subject of your film?

A: The weekend after we came across the New York Times article, we drove to New York City to attend an independent wrestling match. We fortuitously met Samantha, who was attending the show as a fan. She had just written a memoir about being a survivor of intimate partner violence, yet found solace in her career as a professional wrestler.

She invited us to a deathmatch — a form of hardcore wrestling that allows the use of ladders, tables, chairs, thumbtacks, barbed wire, light tubes and much more — that she and her fiancé were tag-teaming in the following weekend, and the rest is history.

We were inspired by her story and the adversity that she has overcome.

She was extremely open with us from the beginning and allowed us to follow her on her continuous journey of navigating anxiety and depression. We thank her immensely for letting us share her story. 

Q: Pro-wrestling can be a form of escapism for the performers as well as audiences. How does pro wrestling work as a vehicle to deal with self-doubt and anxiety for Samantha?

A: It is almost as if Samantha turns into a superhero when her makeup is on and she steps into the ring. The pain of her past slides away when she becomes Terra Calaway, Queen of the Dinosaurs.

For Samantha, it’s a temporary release from her daily mental health struggles. Wrestling has provided her with a community of friends, and ultimately, she met her fiancé through wrestling. Samantha started a non-profit organisation called Dropkick Depression, which aims to help people in the wrestling community who are dealing with mental illness and raise funds for depression and suicide awareness.

Wrestling has taken Samantha to the highest and lowest points and has acted as a consistent coping mechanism, giving her a space to be strong, resolute and beautiful.

Q: World Wrestling Entertainment have proudly promoted their “women’s revolution” and have re-examined the way they present women on their programming. Do you see ripples of those changes on the underground wrestling scene? How does the underground wrestling scene treat someone like Samantha?

A: While the attitude toward female wrestlers is slowly shifting, blatant sexism still runs rampant in the underground wrestling community. Samantha shared with us some of the insults that promoters, fellow wrestlers and fans have said to her based on her looks, weight and gender.

However, Samantha finds solace in the female friends she has made in her wrestling journey and acknowledges her personal hardship of not having a female mentor to help her in the early stages of her career. She takes pride in mentoring younger female wrestlers and is outspoken about the sexism she sees in the ring.

Q: Barry Blaustein’s ‘Beyond The Mat’ has long been the ultimate documentary on the pro wrestling world. Did you watch the documentary or anything else in preparation for this short? How did you prepare to enter the world of wrestling?

A: We jumped headfirst into the world of wrestling. A lot of our research into the subject came while we were in production. We watched our fair share of YouTube videos about the different styles of wrestling.

We were also inspired by the documentary short Fighter By Nature, a film that was also produced in Dr. Ben Crane’s Documentary Workshop course. This film is a portrait of the life of Marvin McDowell, a Hall of Fame boxing coach. Although highlighting the world of boxing, this film inspired a lot of our aesthetic choices for Queen of the Dinosaurs: A Wrestler’s Story.

Q: The pro wrestling world can, at times, be rather wary of outsiders and peeling back the curtain. Did you have any issues or pushback in the making of this short?

A: We filmed quite a few matches where the promoters would not allow cameras backstage. That made it difficult for us to capture Samantha’s interactions with other wrestlers before and after her matches.

Thankfully, she wrestled frequently at H20 Wrestling in Williamstown, New Jersey, where the owner, Matt Tremont, is a personal friend of Samantha’s. Most of the footage that made it into the final cut of the film was from matches at H20, because Matt gave us unlimited access. 

From left to right, Samantha Cohen, Jakob Markwardt, Addison Dlott

Q: I saw a few images of death matches on your Instagram page. How did you two and your team react to the extremes of pro wrestling world?

A: People have often asked us if the blood in the film is real. Yes, it is! There were a few deathmatches that our camera operators walked away from with glass shards in their hair and blood splattered on the camera lenses.

One time, Jakob was filming in a sea of fans when a wrestler jumped from the top turnbuckle into the crowd. Thankfully someone pulled Jakob to the side before he and the camera got crushed.

For me, the first deathmatch I saw in person was slightly traumatising. Some deathmatch wrestlers drink alcohol or take Aspirin to thin their blood (ergo, more bleeding, even if the cuts are small). The bathroom in the locker room looked like a scene of a murder, with bloody footprints and handprints all over.

By the end of production, I had come to terms with it, but the initial shock is something I will never forget. 

Q: ‘Queen Of The Dinosaurs: A Wrestler’s Story’ will have its world premiere at the Raindance Film Festival in London. What does it mean to you and your team for the film to premiere here?

A: As student filmmakers, we are honoured and humbled to have our film premiere in London at the Raindance Film Festival. Raindance is so prestigious, and the fact that our film was selected is huge, especially because we are up against professional documentary filmmakers. Two of our producers, Unagh Frank and Audrey Warner, will be attending the festival this year.

We are very grateful for all of those who have helped us along the way. It’s a privilege to have an international world premiere, and we are excited about the future of this film. 

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