Still from First Match, Olivia Newman ’12 (director), Chanelle Elaine ’12 (producer), Veronica Nickel ’10 (producer), Kristi Lutz ’10 (co-producer), and Michael Toscano ’12 (Assistant Director)
Image courtesy of SxSW

'First Match' by Olivia Newman ’12 Premiered on Netflix to Much Acclaim

BY Fernando Iriarte , April 16, 2018

First Match, written and directed by Alumna Olivia Newman ’12 premiered on Netflix to great critical acclaim.


The project was born as an expansion of Newman’s Columbia thesis film of the same name. First Match was a collaboration between a number of Alumni, including Chanelle Elaine ’12 (producer), Veronica Nickel ’10 (producer), Kristi Lutz ’10 (co-producer), and Michael Toscano ’12 (Assistant Director). 


Synopsis of the film: Hardened by years in foster care, a teenage girl from Brooklyn’s Brownsville neighborhood decides that wrestling boys is the only way back to her estranged father.


The film premiered at South by Southwest Film Festival earlier this year, where it received the SXSW LUNA® Gamechanger Special Award and the Audience Award for best narrative feature film.


After its first screening, First Match was very well received by the critics. Dino-Ray Ramos from Deadline said: "First Match filmmaker & cast champion strong representation of women in coming-of-age wrestling film."


First Match became significant, not only because of its quality, but also because it is an example of diversity within the film industry. For both the director and the producers, it was important to have the same number of men and women on the production. About this issue, Newman told USA Today: “It’s not as easy as it sounds, because there’s less women working in all roles in film, so you have to dig a little deeper to find the ones who are just as good as their male counterparts.” In the end, 60% of crew members were women, including the cinematographer which was a requirement for the director since the very beginning. "I just want to shine a light on women’s stories and I want to portray women in all of their complexities and nuance," said Newman.


It comes as no surprise that First Match continues to be celebrated for both its excellence and for what it represents in today’s world. The film holds an 82% score on Rotten Tomatoes.


David Ehrlich from IndieWire called Newman's film "raw and beautifully well-realized […] this is a movie about where strength comes from, who takes it from us, and how we get it back."


Jessica Ritchey from Rogert Ebert wrote: "A tough film with a tender streak for its protagonist and her struggles."


Kimber Myers of the Los Angeles Times reported: "[Newman] tells an unvarnished story that grapples with the complexity of father-daughter relationships and the desperation of feeling like you have no choices."


Director Newman was among the winners of Columbia's Blue List in 2015 and was part of the 2015 Sundance Screenwriting and director’s lab—a program designed to discover and foster emerging artists—with her film First Match.


First Match is Netflix original production and is available for streaming now.