Its name derives from the Ukrainian for ‘to pump’, and it’s built from scrap metal, so it would be easy to think of the Kachalka gym in Kiev as a Muscle Beach Venice (way, way) east of Los Angeles – a place for hardbodies only, novices need not apply. But in fact, whether you’re looking to get as buff as a World’s Strongest Man competitor, land a few blows at a punch-bag built from car tyres, or simply pose awhile on the machines, the outdoor, free-to-all gym has room for you. It even comes with its own on-site volunteer instructors and sports masseurs.
This short documentary from the Irish filmmaker Gar O’Rourke assembles scenes from the semi-legendary open-air gym, which could seem ripped from a post-apocalyptic movie if it wasn’t for the kindly nature of the gym’s users. O’Rourke frames Kachalka with a light touch and a droll eye: there’s an inherent humour to the proceedings, as everything from massive, brawny hands to high heels meet the metal of the squeaky, makeshift machines.
What’s striking is just how serious and how elderly many of this gym user’s are. But beneath their earnest self-absorption, the short documentary captures the communal nature, deep resourcefulness and creative spirit inherent in the space. After all, the distinctive gym wasn’t built for novelty, but out of necessity. The film’s narrator – an unnamed regular – explains how Kachalka was born during Soviet times, when factory workers collected scrap metal and brought tools from work to build the fitness space. Today, that gym regular keeps ‘the Mecca of Kiev’s sport’ alive as part of a team who help design and weld new machines to keep visitors coming. ‘I have completely actualised myself here,’ he explains, referring to his work building Kachalka – proving, perhaps once and for all, that the path to self-actualisation can embody many forms.