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.