2006 Film Festival
2006 Baseball Hall of Fame Film Festival
Hit the lights: Hall hosts first film festival
Event to feature 13 films covering various aspects of baseball
For Bill Povletich, the road to the National Baseball Hall of Fame began in a bookstore.
The author and documentary filmmaker was visiting his native Wisconsin when he chanced upon a display featuring Jerry Poling's "A Summer Up North: Henry Aaron and the Legend of Eau Claire Baseball." Povletich, who grew up with a great respect for the home run king, quickly read the non-fiction account about the first season "Hammerin' Hank" played professional baseball.
As Povletich read, his filmmaker's eye saw potential. Always a fan of hero stories, whether Greek myth or "Lord of the Rings," "A Summer Up North" struck Povletich as an archetypical one.
"It's about an African-American kid who grew up before the civil rights movement in the South, has dreams and aspirations, and to reach his destiny as baseball player, and [he] has to battle adversity and society -- as well as deal with being only 18 years old," Povletich said. "A lesser man would have quit or gone home. Henry Aaron persevered and exceeded any expectations that could have been set for him."
Povletich set out to create a documentary that would serve as a companion to Poling's book and showcase the story for a wider audience. He also felt driven to ensure this story was told before Aaron's home run record could be surpassed by Barry Bonds. Povletich accomplished each of those goals, as his film, "Henry Aaron's Summer Up North," will be shown Saturday as part of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum's inaugural Baseball Film Festival.
"Between being a big baseball fan and Henry Aaron's 'Summer Up North' being a passion project, it was very gratifying for the film to be recognized by the Hall of Fame and the film festival, because that's the core audience," Povletich said.
The three-day juried event -- the judges include noted film critic Jeffrey Lyons -- begins Friday, November 10 at 5:30 p.m. ET and will feature 13 films covering nearly as many topics. Several focus on varying aspects of the international spread of the game, from the impact of Dominican pioneers in MLB ("The Republic of Baseball: The Dominican Giants of the American Game") to the March Madness-like frenzy of the "Koshien" national high school baseball tournament in Japan ("Kokoyakyu: High School Baseball").
One film, "Play Ball: A Trilogy of Baseball Films," flips the focus, as British filmmaker Abigail Bess focuses on three aspects of the American pastime: umpires, fans and groundskeepers. Bess -- who joked that she kept referring to the pitcher with the cricket term "bowler" -- said that "Play Ball" originated five years ago as a theatrical piece conceived by her husband, Denny. Bess saw the potential for a film translation, but realized breaking out of theater meant reconsidering the stark, minimalist set of the original.
Bess decided that film required a stadium setting, and contacted Shea Stadium, home to the New York Mets. She was well-received, and created her trilogy inside the Flushing Meadows ballpark. Each segment of "Play Ball" is a musically driven, black-and-white narrative.
"It tries to recreate a nostalgic vision, and I think color would have been too overpowering," Bess said. "I think black and white fit the time, place and what the sport represented. There's something much more romantic about it. For this subject, it seemed a natural choice. And for the music, we chose all these old American standards, like George Gershwin's 'Rhapsody in Blue'. It was about recreating the old feeling of baseball and what the perfect game meant."
While Bess' film aims to tap into baseball nostalgia, John Fitzgerald's "The Emerald Diamond" covers baseball's cultural evolution in its nascent stages, telling the story of the Irish national team. Fitzgerald was browsing the Internet in 2003 when he came across the team's Web site. Intrigued by the concept -- which he had never before considered -- he began to research the team's story.
According to baseballireland.com, the foundation for the Irish national team was laid in 1995, when MLB International coaches visited the country to provide instruction. By 1996, Ireland was participating in international tournaments, and the framework was set for a seven-team adult league. Two years later, the Irish reached the quarterfinals of the European Championship in Australia, finishing eighth among 16 teams -- even though it was the smallest country to participate.
"When I found out their story, I felt compelled to make a film about it," Fitzgerald said. "They're the ultimate underdogs; they're in this small country where it rains all the time. They had very little equipment, and most had never seen a baseball uniform, let alone played in one. I went through the story with the guys the same way the audience goes through it -- thinking there's no way they'll win a game or a medal -- but eventually that all gets proven untrue."
The Irish national team's story is one that iconic saloonkeeper Toots Shor would have appreciated. Shor -- the subject of "Toots," by granddaughter Kristi Jacobson -- lived a life GQ editor Michael Henley said went from "rags to rags, with indefinable riches in between," according to the Web site tootsthemovie.com.
The irrepressible Shor ran an eponymous saloon in New York City for 30 years, bringing together sports figures, sports writers and the common fan in jovial and acerbic fashion. Jacobson barely knew her grandfather, who died when she was 6, but after a push from a producer, she realized his story needed to be told and she was particularly suited to do so.
"I knew sports fans would know him, but I didn't realize what a central figure he was in the sports world at such a pivotal time in the evolution of sports as we know it," Jacobson said. "My generation's experience with sports is completely different than it was for people then, and it's really important to understand that history. One thing I learned was that Toots' restaurant and story really embody a golden age -- particularly in baseball in New York in the 1940s, '50s and '60s -- that's worth reliving and taking stock of today."
The film spans Toots' post-World War II beginnings to its spectacular decline in the '70s. It is narrated by Shor; the audio was collected during an oral history completed two years before his death. "Toots" has already been screened for several audiences, but Jacobson is certain he'd be most proud of its next viewing.
"Toots felt that sports were the backbone of American life and that 'any good citizen should have a devoted interest in sports,'" Jacobson said. "The National Baseball Hall of Fame is a great place to honor Toots, his absolute loyalty and devotion to sports and to the fans who are just as important as the athletes playing the sport."
Ben Couch, National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum
Friday, November 10
7 p.m. Opening Program and Boys In Winter
The opening program of the festival will welcome guests to Cooperstown and feature a screening of the digitally animated short Take Me Out to the Baseball Card Shop. The program will also feature a screening of Boys In Winter, a film looking at the heroes of the Brooklyn Dodgers during their twilight years. Boys In Winter is the final film in a documentary series created by Mark Reese, son of Hall of Famer Pee Wee Reese. Mark Reese and his wife Patti Brand Reese will provide commentary and introduce the film. They will also serve as judges of the film festival, along with film critic Jeffrey Lyons and Hall of Fame staff members Lenny DiFranza and Bill Francis.
Saturday, November 11
9:30 a.m. Henry Aaron’s Summer Up North
Every legend has a beginning, for Henry Aaron, it began nearly two thousand miles from home in the small northern community of Eau Claire Wisconsin. Henry Aaron’s Summer Up North chronicles this widely unknown chapter of the Hall of Famer’s life during one important, if not trying, first summer of professional baseball in the northwoods community of Eau Claire, Wisconsin. While under extreme pressure to perform on the baseball diamond, Aaron must bridge the cultural divide between growing up in the segregated South and starting his professional baseball career in the North to fulfill his dream of becoming a Major League ballplayer.
11:30 a.m. Play Ball: A Trilogy of Baseball Films
Play Ball!, a trilogy of short films paying tribute to baseball, honors the people whose passion and participation support the game – the groundskeeper, the fans, and the umpire. These black and white narratives evoke the silent movie era, which in turn creates the atmospheric magic of a day at the ballpark. The films were shot on location at Shea Stadium, New York.
12:30 p.m. Lunch Break
1:30 p.m. Stranded at the Corner
Stranded at the Corner offers a frank exploration of the public and private maneuverings that resulted in the abandonment of a classic American ballpark. Featuring an entertaining blend of archival footage and contemporary interviews, Stranded examines the rich history of Detroit’s Tiger Stadium and takes a critical look at this national treasure’s current state of neglect.
3:30 p.m. The Republic of Baseball: The Dominican Giants of the American Game
Since 1956, over 400 Dominicans have played in the majors, today, this Caribbean nation of 9 million accounts for more than a 10th of all major leaguers and a third of all minor leaguers. The Republic of Baseball is the story of the pioneers who made it possible. Felipe Alou, Juan Marichal, Manny Mota, Ozzie Virgil and Felipe’s brothers Mateo and Jesus grew up during the repressive reign of dictator Rafael Trujillo, playing ball with homemade gloves and bats. But after Jackie Robinson crossed baseball’s color line in 1947, they became the first Dominicans to navigate the perilous currents of culture, curveballs, and race relations in the American south. This is their story.
5 p.m. Dinner Break
6:30 p.m. This Old Cub
There’s plenty of fight left in This Old Cub, the documentary feature about former All-Star third baseman, broadcaster and Chicago Cubs legend Ron Santo and his lifelong battle with diabetes. Santo was the first and only major league position player to play professional baseball with Type One Juvenile Diabetes. This Old Cub captures the spirit of Ron Santo, a player who clicked his heels after every win, perfectly reflecting a time when players like Santo played for the love of the game. Despite facing the challenges of diabetes, this is a man who handles everything with grace, humor and not an ounce of bitterness. Santo is the ultimate optimist and therefore the ultimate Cub!
8:30 p.m. Spaceman: A Baseball Odyssey
Throughout the 1970s, Bill Lee was the ultimate gonzo baseball player, a brilliant left-handed pitcher who flouted every manager or front office executive who tried to control him. The fans loved him and so did the sportswriters who delighted in asking the usual baseball questions, only to get philosophical responses involving the relationship between existentialism and the curveball or the effects of karma on a pitcher’s rotator cuff. Retiring from pro ball in 1983, Lee began to roam the world in search of a chance to play the game he loves. Spaceman: A Baseball Odyssey follows Lee on a road trip from his farm in Vermont to the impoverished baseball mecca of Cuba and on his triumphant return to Fenway Park. Please note, this film has extensive use of adult language.
Sunday, November 12
9 a.m. The Emerald Diamond
Beginning in the early 1990s, a group of Irish natives and American expats gathered on rugby fields across Dublin in preparation for the European Baseball Championships. With no fields, no uniforms and no equipment, they trained in the infamous Dublin rain against all odds. Today, Ireland’s baseball program finds itself at a crossroads. Children have begun playing baseball and Ireland’s National Team won the bronze at the 2004 European Championships. But, with the Olympics’ decision to remove baseball from competition, Baseball Ireland stands to lose most of its funding by 2012. Will it be the end of Irish baseball or just the latest in a long list of obstacles overcome by the ‘Dublin 9’?
11 a.m. The Kalamazoo Kings
The Kalamazoo Kings not only provide a lively, family friendly experience at the ballpark, they give back to the community as well. In their inaugural season, the Frontier League crowned the Kalamazoo Kings as the 2001 Organization of the Year for their involvement with the community and in 2005, the Kings won not only the Frontier League Championship, but they were also honored with the 2005 Governor’s Service Award for Outstanding Corporate Citizenship. This documentary illustrates how the combination of baseball, fun and fans can create good that goes beyond the ballpark.
12 p.m. Kokoyakyu: High School Baseball
In Japan, baseball is not a pastime — it's a national obsession. And for many of the country's youth, the sport has become a rite of passage, epitomized by the national high school baseball tournament known simply as "Koshien." Four thousand teams enter, but only 49 are chosen to compete in the championship that grips the nation for two weeks every August. "Kokoyakyu: High School Baseball" opens up the world of Koshien by following the fortunes of two teams as they compete in regional games and then head for the 2003 tournament (the 86th annual games). In "Kokoyakyu," the rules, uniforms and stadium hoopla may seem all-American. But — in what may be a revelation to Americans, especially American kids involved in sports — the intensity, discipline, earnestness and unselfish dedication to team, school and family are all Japanese.
1:30 p.m. Lunch Break
2:30 p.m. Toots
A friend to the famous, a crook to the feds, father, brother, gambler, bum, but most of all Toots Shor was the owner of America’s greatest saloon. Directed by his granddaughter, Toots is a provocative, loving and unmistakably authentic portrait of the self-made, unapologetic and quintessentially American man who became the unlikely den-mother to the heroes of America’s golden age. Politicians and gangsters, sports heroes and movie stars – Sinatra, Gleason, DiMaggio, Ruth, Costello, Eisenhower, Nixon, Warren – for 30 years, they all found their way to Toots’ eponymous saloon on New York’s West 51st Street for food and drinks, served up with a heaping side of insults and put downs. From its post-WWII heyday to its devastating decline in the 1970s, this film reveals as much about the city Toots loved as it does about the man and his enduring legacy.
4:30 p.m. Closing Program and Award Presentation