Captured on film

Hall of Fame’s Baseball Film Festival thrills both fans and filmmakers

October 05, 2010
The Fifth Annual Baseball Film Festival took place October 3-4 in Cooperstown. (Milo Stewart Jr./National Baseball Hall of Fame Lirbrary)

The public's love affair with both baseball and the movies was on full display when the Fifth Annual Baseball Film Festival took place this past weekend at the Hall of Fame.

In total, 11 movies, ranging in length from five minutes to almost two hours and collectively totaling more than nine hours, were shown throughout Saturday and Sunday before full houses at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum's Bullpen Theater. And with subject matter that included everything from Negro league legend Josh Gibson, the Latin American influence in today's game, and the demise of a beloved ballpark, the varied stories only mirrors why the national pastime remains as popular to such a wide and broad audience.

"Being part of this festival is the ultimate honor," said Gary Waksman, director of Four Days in October, an MLB Productions feature on the comeback by the Boston Red Sox against the rival New York Yankees in the 2004 American League Championship Series. "When you walk around the Baseball Hall of Fame and you see all the people enshrined and you think of all the great stories that correspond to those names, and you think about this story, a team story of such a great comeback, it's almost appropriate to have it shown here. That's how we feel. This is where it should be seen first before it's presented to the mass public on Oct. 5."

Four Days in October, part of ESPN's 30 for 30 series of films, will make it' premiere on the network at 8 p.m. on Oct. 5.

Dave Check, the executive produce of Four Days in October, called it appropriate that the film should be shown in Cooperstown.

"The greatest comeback of all time in baseball history should be enshrined here," Check said. "I almost look at the premiere of this film, the first place it's been shown publicly, as somewhat of a de facto type of enshrinement. Just being a part of history and being able to tell these incredible stories and being able to showcase it here is thrilling."

For director Mike Diedrich, bringing his film Ballhawks, which concerns the men who chase balls hit outside Chicago's famed Wrigley Field, to the Baseball Hall of Fame was somewhat overwhelming.

"I don't know if I can put it into words. It's indescribable," he said. "I'm a huge baseball fanatic and this, I think, is as good as it gets. And three of the Ballhawks made the drive out here, driving all night, so it makes it even more exciting."

Peter Miller, the director of Jews and Baseball: An American Love Story, was familiar with the Baseball Hall of Fame, having conducted research in the Library's Giamatti Research Center.

"This is a very special festival because it's the Hall of Fame, it's a place where the history of baseball is taken more seriously than anywhere on earth," Miller said, "and it's a huge honor to be part of this film festival."

Jews and Baseball will be released theatrically this fall, with a showing on PBS in the spring.

"This film would have been impossible without the resources of the Hall of Fame, the photographs, especially. We used hundreds of pictures from the Hall of Fame's collection. And we used a good deal of footage from the Hall of Fame as well," Miller said. "Everybody at the Hall of Fame, when I came up here to do research, was incredibly helpful. We are hugely indebted to the Hall of Fame for this film."

As for why baseball remains such a significant subject for filmmakers, Waksman, the director of Four Days in October, shared his thoughts: "You have heroes, villains and goats, people you cheer for and don't cheer for. I think just the nature of the sport itself is just very conducive to great storytelling."

Bill Francis is a library associate at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum