2009 Tribeca Film Festival - 30 Years of Sports Filmmaking - April 24, 2009
2009 Tribeca Film Festival
April 24, 2009
ESPN's Chris Connelly
Barbara Kopple (episode: The Steinbrenner Family Business)
Albert Maysles (episode: Muhammad and Larry)
Barry Levinson (episode: And the Band Marched On: The Colts Sneak Out of Baltimore)
Dan Klores (episode: King of the New York Streets)
Whether played out on the field, in the ring, or on the court, every great sports drama is ultimately a human tale—of conflict, determination, passion, triumph, and loss. In honor of ESPN’s 30th anniversary, ESPN Films launches 30 for 30, an unprecedented documentary film series featuring 30 of today’s finest directors bringing to life 30 of the most remarkable sports stories from 1979 to 2009—the ESPN era. These films represent an extraordinary and diverse mosaic of the impact of sports on America and world culture.
Connelly began by getting a sense of what each of the filmmakers contributed to 30 for 30 starting with Kopple, who said she was really fortunate to do her film pointing out a woman in the audience named Nicole Renna who struggled to make this all possible as a friend of the Steinbrenner family to try get Kopple to interview them and get as much access as possible. Kopple said the Yankees are about heroes, traditions, and now the changing of the guard with the closing of the old stadium and the opening of the new. “For me, it was some of the best filming I’ve ever done in my life,” she said.
In contrast, Connelly joked with Levinson about being a long-time Baltimore Orioles fan. “I’ll tell you how terrible I was in Baltimore,” Levinson said. “I hated the Yankees.” But he did recollect a story of one time when the Yankees came to town, and he would not even get Mickey Mantle’s autograph. Levinson, who’s mostly known for his narrative fiction films such as Rain Man, Good Morning Vietnam, and Avalon, was asked by Connelly what his documentary piece is all about. He said he was fascinated when the Colts left town back in 1983 and to see that the band that used to march for the team continued to march for 12 years without the team, always in hopes of getting another team. The fanaticism of sports and sense of community and belonging would make for an interesting story to tell, he said.
Connelly next moved onto Maysles film about Muhammad Ali and Larry Holmes, commenting that it has a genesis going back many years, “a kind of documentary archaeology.” Maysles said the film goes back more than the 30 years since it was made when he and his brother David film the two of them preparing for their fights. When someone is at his or her best in making a documentary, Maysles said something personal hearkens back to your childhood. When he was a kid growing up in a Jewish family in Boston surrounded by Irish anti-Semitists, there wasn’t hardly a day where a kid wouldn’t come up to him and tell him he’d meet him outside to fight. He recollected one particular fight when after there was a little boy five years younger standing there crying and he walked him home. It was his brother. Fighting was the only way he could get close to the Irish as a young kid, but many years later he fulfilled his dream of becoming friends with the Irish when he and his brother made the film Salesman.
And finally, Connelly went to Klores about his film. While Maysles film takes in so many years of history, Klores’ film is focused on only “18 unbelievable seconds,” Connelly said. Klores said the film is on Reggie Miller who purchased the New York Knicks in 1994/95. What captured his interest was when he received a photo of Miller taking a big shot in Madison Square Garden. But it wasn’t the shot that interested him most, but the horror on everyone’s faces in the background. Connelly asked how he took a historical event that happened on TV and brought new life to it in a way that heightens the moment and makes us take notice again. Klores said the 30 or 35 people he interviewed all have different interpretations of the same exact thing.
30 for 30 is slated to air on ESPN this fall.