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By Charles Martin | May 1, 2007

A documentary about an annual frog jumping contest sounds as exciting as, well, an annual frog jumping contest. Luckily writer/director Justin Bookey knows how to make it interesting … or at least as interesting as a frog jumping contest and the people involved in it can be to outsiders.

Calaveras County (Angels Camp, to be more specific) has hosted an annual frog jumping contest (inspired by Mark Twain) since 1928. Frog jockeys from all over the state arrive with freshly caught frogs in tow to win the championship and take a shot at breaking the world record for longest jump. Some jockeys have large teams and elaborate tank set -ups. Other jockeys compete as individuals with far less complex container systems. Almost all of them are competitive as hell and take the event very, very seriously.

The only way to make a documentary like this work is to avoid mocking the subject matter. Bookey treats the contest, fans, contestants and small town tradition with nothing but respect, and that makes the film kind of fascinating and informative. Yes, some of these people come off as a little nuts, but where there’s a contest there’s competition — no matter the game. Bookey lets that come across without ever degrading the people involved, and that says a lot about his skills.

Before this film I knew nothing about the frog jumping contest in Calaveras County. Now I can rattle off rules and techniques as if I’ve been involved in the game for years. No, I’ll never participate in the event or even attend one of my own free will, but it’s nice to know that if I’m kidnapped and forced to go, I’ll know what the hell is going on thanks to Bookey’s film.

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