This Month on Access Tucson:
A Cult Classic by a Tucson Filmmaker

by Diane Daly

Trailer for Tugs Untied



"Tugs Untied" won top honors at the 2000 Arizona International Film Festival but slipped quietly past the rest of America because it was a student film. Created by Michael Lahey, Phil Dalton and Dan Zimny for Jeffrey Chown's Northern Illinois University film class, it introduces team leader Chris Cosentino and his Pi Kappa Alpha ("Pike") fraternity tuggers as they lose the inter-fraternity tug of war competition in 1995. "It happened on a day that had to be one of the worst days of my life," Cosentino tells us. Pikes "had won 22 out of 24 years," he says, "and nobody really saw it comin'."

The film follows the Pikes as they prepare for the '96 Tugs competition and grapple with depression, desperation, and "tremendous pressure" from Pike alumni who have crystallized their own identities around the Pikes' former legacy as Tugs champions. These direct interviews with the artless Cosentino reveal a heartbreaking awareness of the gravity of this tradition, awareness that could only be found in one so vulnerable to it. Tugs appears to the viewer as a primitive sport wherein lines of teeth-gnashing men face each other and pull a rough rope while grunting, screaming, chanting and cursing until the bodies of one team start to break--and that's just during Pike tugs practice. Cosentino's humanity is a respite amid this brutal footage, like a soldier's letters to Mom narrated over bloody battle scenes.

"Tugs Untied" was filmed in Illinois but Lahey edited the film while living in Tucson, where the film has become a cult favorite.


"Tugs Untied" will be shown June 12th through June 18th at 8pm on Access Tucson's Channel 74, followed each evening by "Making Waves", Lahey's 2004 documentary about pirate radio pioneers in Tucson that was part of the 2004 Arizona International Film Festival.