SXSWORLD February 2013


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Best Sports Filmmaking Tells the Human Stories by Dan Solomon W P H O T O C O U R T S E Y O F U N D E F E AT E D PHOTO COURTSEY OF THE TRIAL OF ALLENE IVERSON hen ESPN launched its At 30 For 30, that means using 2009 series 30 For 30, sports to view issues that resonate which promised 30 sports in the wider world. "We try to tell documentaries to celebrate the 30th cultural stories where sports are your anniversary of the network, ESPN window in," Schell explains. "Our Films Vice President Connor Schell hope is that by telling the stories nervously wondered if the filmmakers well, they say something much larger could find 30 stories that were worth about the culture." That may mean telling. It was not a problem, as the telling the story of a nation captivated initial set of 30 films became 43, by the O.J. Simpson car chase, how and a second volume began airing in Allen Iverson's high school court case 2012. "Now," Schell says, "I think we exposed race relations in his home could find 300 good stories to tell." city, or of former NBA star Chris As sports filmmaking has evolved Herren's battle with drug addiction. in recent years, the types of stories What is important is that these stoNo Crossover: The Trial of Allen Iverson that resonate with audiences have ries have implications that extend expanded. Once, personal documenwell beyond the playing field. taries such as Hoop Dreams were rare "Sports filmmaking is the comexceptions to the mythologizing of bination of two distinct worlds: the athletes that typified the genre. Now, primary physicality of athletics and the entire field of sports documentary the visual poetry of cinema," explains filmmaking has embraced the power Rodgers. 2013 is not the first year that of using the camera to tell human, SXSW will explore that intersection. relatable stories about the athletes A number of sports documentaries whose exploits capture so much of including Hood to Coast, Waiting For the American imagination. For NFL Lightning, Murderball and the world Films Senior Producer Ken Rodgers, premiere of the Academy Award winthat's only a good thing. ning Undefeated have played at SXSW Undefeated "The conscious effort is to capin years past, as have such 30 For 30 ture the athletes as people," Rodgers films as The Announcement and says. "There tends to be a kind of hero "It doesn't mean life or death, but One Night in Vegas, as well as myth-making going on and certainly somewhere in our subconscious, it the premiere of No Crossover, we're responsible for that at NFL Films the aforementioned Iverson more than anyone." He laughs as he represents life and death. Success film, which screened prior to its says it, but Rodgers, who produces the initial ESPN airing. HBO series Hard Knocks, is very inter- and failure represents living and At SXSW, the sports world ested in using a platform that builds dying, somewhere deep down." has even taken notice of even athletes into heroes as a way to showsome of the lower-budget filmcase their essential humanity. "[We] let you see that these 'heroes' are makers working at the crossroads of sports and film. In 2012, the guys at work," he says. "I think there's a big connection when fans, festival hosted the world premiere of filmmaker Jonny Mars' docuor non-fans, of the game realize that. 'Oh, I thought it was all glory mentary America's Parking Lot, about the tailgaters who transitioned and honor and all this stuff. But they sit in a meeting room all day from the old Texas Stadium to the new Cowboys Stadium in Dallas; just like I sit in front of a computer all day.' There's a barrier that the broadcast rights to that film were recently acquired by ESPN. comes down when the uniform comes off." All of these films are, at their core, compelling narratives with Removing barriers is something that sports have always accomhigh stakes, explosive visuals and genuine emotional connections. plished in America, so it makes sense that Rodgers is interested in "We project our own humanity onto these players," Rodgers says. finding ways to achieve that through the stories he tells. "Sports "It doesn't mean life or death, but somewhere in our subconscious, films tap into this belief in America that nothing is as pure as sport," it represents life and death. Success and failure represents living and he says. "We have all grown wary of a lot of institutions – politics, dying, somewhere deep down." With so much on the line, it's no the celebrity cult of personality. People want their sports to be pure wonder the appetite for these stories is greater than ever. ■ and true." By humanizing athletes, films like the ones that Rodgers Schell, Rodgers and Ross Greenburg (Ross Greenburg Productions) will particiand Schell produce are able to honor the truth that audiences want, pate in the "Humanizing Heroes: Storytelling Beyond Sports" panel at SXSW while telling stories that place sports within a broader cultural Film. Stay tuned to for more details. context. 34 SXSWORLD /FEBRUARY 2013

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