“Torched” Documentary Brings PUL to Film Festival Audiences

The film about the Austin Torch is garnering some attention.

Members of the Austin Torch sign posters at a screening.

Torched“, a documentary following the 2022 Premier Ultimate Season of the Austin Torch, premiered at Newburyport Documentary Film Festival in Massachusetts and has found success showing with audiences thus far. Hoag Kepner took home Best Director (Documentary Feature) honors at Reel East Texas Film Festival in Kilgore, TX, where the film was selected for the Audience Award. The next stop: a showing at the prestigious Dances with Films in New York, NY on December 1, where Hoag and some members of the team will also do a Q&A.

Torched Trailer

“The response has been great. Ultimate people typically love this thing, but in particular, female and non-binary players seem to be really moved by it. It means so much to me when they come up to me and tell me how happy they are that ‘their story’ was finally being told,” said Kepner. “These are women who played when there were no fans, when they had to pay for all their flights to tournaments, and pay for uniforms, and sometimes felt like it was a grind that nobody would ever see or appreciate in terms of paving the way for where the women’s side of the sport is now.”

Hoag Kepner with Reel East Texas Film Festival awards.

The creation of “Torched” actually predates even the semi-pro league that hosts its story. Kepner began filming when the Torch were competing against other assorted unaffiliated teams like the Detroit Riveters, motivated by a fascination with things starting from nothing. But it wasn’t until the team and league narrowly avoided a lost 2022 season following the pandemic that the director was moved to creating a full feature film.

“The angle would be the Torch’s comeback season in 2022, a real ‘can’t-let-the-dream-die’ kinda thing,” said Kepner. He launched a Kickstarter, which raised $40,000 from the community (with a particularly helpful donation from Spin Ultimate), and set out to document the team’s 2022 season.

“The idea behind the film resonated with a lot of people; shining a light on the efforts of a pioneering class of female and non-binary athletes in a niche sport. All in the face of so many obstacles,” said Kepner. “Add in the sort of built-in ‘hero’s journey’ of it all, and if you’ve got the makings of a good story.”

Reaching a wider audience at film festivals could expose the game, the team, the league, and their stories to new people. Any time ultimate brushes up against the barrier between its insular network and the wider mainstream, there’s always a curiosity to how it will be received. Kepner wasn’t just making this to show family, friends, and ultimate fans.

The poster for Torched.

“I wanted it to appeal to anyone, as a story about the human spirit, and what happens when a group of people loves something so much and there are so many reasons not to take part,” said Kepner. “It’s a calling. It’s what they do. They play frisbee with their frisbee team. And I think this story does really resonate with people who aren’t fans of Ultimate or even of sports. It makes a viewer ask themself, ‘What do I love this much in my life? What’s my outlet’ and then maybe they’re inspired to engage with that aspect of their life, whatever their answer to those questions was.”

There isn’t a lot of media telling the stories of ultimate in this format. What little does exist hasn’t generated this sort of attention from exterior entities. Perhaps “Torched” and its depiction of the fire of its subjects might prove a viable spark for more.

  1. Keith Raynor
    Keith Raynor

    Keith Raynor is a Senior Editor and the Business Development Manager at Ultiworld. He co-hosts our Deep Look podcast and does play-by-play and color commentary. He coaches UConn Rise, the college's women's team. You can reach him by email ([email protected]) or on Twitter (@FullFieldHammer).

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