The following sports documentary films are prime examples of the kind of project I’d like to create. They take a specific moment in sports – a team, a player, a game – and then depict its significance to some larger group – a school, a franchise, a community. I think that, like in these examples, a sports-style documentary could be successful in representing Los Angeles through its relationship to its sports teams.
Trojan War (ESPN 30 for 30)
This piece from ESPN tells the story of the Pete Carroll era in USC football. They went from mediocrity to greatness under his leadership, but the program was later harshly penalized for numerous violations of NCAA recruiting and athlete rules. The rise and fall of sports glory at USC is a perfect example of the successes and failures in sports that arise not only through actual competition but through concerns over money, reputation and business. I think the format – with narration, interviews, and original video – is a good structure. It allows the viewer to be present in the moments the filmmakers want to highlight but then have access to commentary with the benefit of hindsight.
The film is an important example of a good representation because it does not confine itself to scores and statistics. Around the 26 minute mark, one of the USC tight ends speaks to what USC football means for the city of Los Angeles at large. He recalls how, at the height of USC’s success, the other sports teams in Los Angeles were not performing well. “Our opportunity was to reconnect with the community. I wanted to make it available to them.” It goes on to say how the players became like movie stars. This is similar to how I want to use sports to outline a larger impact on the community.
I think this film has demonstrated to me that a successful project should incorporate a lot of footage of what’s being talked about, but it also needs commentary, both period and contemporary. While it’s much longer than mine will be, I think the format and focus are very similar and this was helpful for me to think about the flow and progression of my own video.
June 17th, 1994 (ESPN 30 for 30)
On June 17th, 1994, a white Bronco carrying O.J. Simpson was chased around Los Angeles, becoming the most significant event, sports or otherwise, to happen on that day. But it wasn’t the only thing. Arnold Palmer was playing his last round of professional golf, Patrick Ewing was looking to win a championship with the Knicks, the Rangers were celebrating their Stanley Cup victory, and the World Cup was starting in Chicago. This film offers a look into how one moment can capture the mind of a city regardless of all other events. O.J. had been out of Los Angeles sports for years, but the city clings to its athletes and celebrities, so when the chase began, everything else, even the basketball finals and the World Cup, became secondary. An event became a part of the sports world simply because its protagonist was a retired athlete. I think this demonstrates the huge cultural role that individual athletes and sports franchises at large play within a city, especially one so hinged on fame like Los Angeles.
The format of the film is unique in that there are no talking head interviews or narration – simply a progression of footage, cut between the car chase and all the other events. The news clips and the home videos form their own narration, but the story is told without the direct benefit of modern commentary (aside from the liberty to make edits). Even though I just said in my previous example that I liked the interview and narration style, I think this format reminds me that commentary can sometimes be excessive and that I can also, at times, let the story itself do the talking, let it be experienced as it originally was, and let viewers form their own ideas on what it means in connection with the city.
Straight Outta LA (30 for 30)
This documentary follows the Raiders during their time spent in Los Angeles and how their presence impacted the city. It mentions owner Al Davis and his obsession with marketing and branding and how that impacted the community on and off the field: “What we said to the press, how it was communicated, how it was going to portray the Raiders…” “Success in the courtroom gave him more satisfaction than seeing the team win…” There were many lawsuits between the team and the league that took attention away from the game itself. Sports is a business – and nothing says business like Al Davis.
The video also focuses a lot on the Raiders’ fan base – many gangs and troubled kids identified with the Raiders, which in turn took families away from the Coliseum (the arena). There were riots at the games, and fans were critically beaten during games. “It was clear that the Raiders were a ‘hood’ team… It was like the streets decided to stop for a minute to go watch a football game.” Even the colors of the team were important – they were not connected to either of the major gangs and so members of both games could wear the gear. Policies and administrative codes had to be enforced at schools because of this.
This is such a unique representation of Los Angeles and its connection to sports – the Raiders only played in LA for 13 years and didn’t originate there or stay there, yet their brief presence had such an enormous impact on the community. This documentary was not about a game or a series or even a player – all the sports stuff is secondary to the effect the team as a franchise had on the city. Between ownership always begin in court, the marketing, and the gang affiliation, the Raiders were a business, a promotion, first, and a football team second. I think this example does an excellent job of connecting sports to Los Angeles’ identity, which is what I am aiming for in my own project.
No Crossover: The Trial of Allen Iverson
This documentary covers the tumultuous relationship between Allen Iverson and his hometown of Hampton, Virginia. His arrest, trial and conviction had a massive impact on the city. The incident took place in Hampton and the aftermath increased racial tensions in the area. The documentary mostly consists of natives remembering the event and discussing how it impacted the community.
Getting multiple opinions of the people not directly involved in the incident but directly affected by it is a smart method of presentation. This format demonstrates the reach of a single athlete into a bigger community, specifically a troubled small town where he grew up. The incident defined the town and put its problems in the national spotlight.