Notes from the Underground

Brace yourself for a bumper crop of topflight indie sports films
May 18, 2008

THINK OF theTribeca/ESPN Sports Film Festival, which wrapped up in New York City on May 4,as the movie version of a scouting combine: It's a place where indieproductions can create buzz and find an audience and a distributor. (Successstories from 2007 include The First Saturday in May and The Grand, which hitcineplexes this year.) Twelve sports movies were screened at this year's secondannual fest. Here's a peek at several that deserve a wider audience.

BEST ACTION
In Ball Don't Lie, a gritty tale set against the Venice Beach streetball scene,AND 1 tour star Grayson (Professor) Boucher makes his acting debut as Sticky,the white guy at a local court where ballers find an outlet for theirfrustrations. For Sticky those frustrations revolve around his upbringing as anorphan accustomed to being told he isn't good enough everywhere except thecourt. The ultimate question is whether basketball will save Sticky's soul.It's not the most original idea, but hoops fans will appreciate theauthenticity of the basketball scenes. [3 stars] (out of five)

BEST HUMANITARIANEFFORT
The stakes in Susan Koch's and Jeff Werner's soccer documentary Kicking It arenot high: No glory or lucre awaits the winners of the 2006 Homeless World Cupin Cape Town. But the pleasure of being part of a team—not to mention the breakfrom their hardscrabble existences—is more than enough for the players; one, a62-year-old from Spain named Jesus, calls winning a game "the best momentof my life." [3 stars]

BEST ODE TO AMAJOR LEAGUE OUTCAST
By 2002 the combustible former Rangers and Mets manager Bobby Valentine hadnowhere left to go in the big leagues. He soon found a warm embrace—and achampionship—managing in Japan. In The Zen of Bobby V directors Andrew Jenks,Jonah Quickmire and Andrew Muscato follow the man in his adopted element, wherehe seems more at ease than he did in the U.S. Late in the movie, when theMarines are struggling, the flappable old Bobby V appears, but by that point,the audience has already been charmed. [3 1/2 stars]

BEST UNSCRIPTEDSCENE
When the Iranian women's national soccer team plays a German club in Tehrannear the end of Football Under Cover, directors Ayat Najafi and David Assmannaren't allowed to sit in the stands—in Iran, men are forbidden from watchingthe opposite sex play sports. It's a poignant climax to an engaging documentaryabout the struggle to organize the first international women's match in Iran.(The women, who are required to play in head scarves, are harassed by Iranianmen for their interest in athletics.) Najafi, who ends up watching the gamethrough a hole in a gate, and Assmann provide their audience with an insider'slook at life in an insular society. [3 1/2 stars]

ISSUE THAT HITCLOSEST TO HOME
Writer and director Chris Bell grew up idolizing Hulk Hogan, Sly Stallone andArnold Schwarzenegger, but he didn't need to look to his heroes for Bigger,Stronger, Faster, his examination of steroids in American culture: Both ofBell's brothers are users. In dozens of startlingly frank interviews withsubjects ranging from Congressman Henry Waxman to disgraced sprinter BenJohnson to the director's tearful mother, Bell excavates a full spectrum ofsteroids-related issues. He explores so many themes that the pace can bedizzying, but that doesn't stop this from being a first-rate documentary. [4stars]

SI'S FAVORITE
It would be easy to write off light middleweight Kassim Ouma as just anotherimmature boxer: He has a history of irresponsible behavior in and out of thering and is prone to odd pronouncements like, "I have six kids left insideof me that I haven't released yet; they're like albums." But director KiefDavidson's Kassim the Dream exposes a tortured soul who acts like a childbecause he never got to be one. As a six-year-old in Uganda, Ouma was kidnappedby insurgents and forced to torture and kill for his captors; boxing became histicket to an escape to the U.S. when he was a teen. Davidson catches Ouma atthe moment when he returns to Uganda to confront his past. If you don't like tocry at movies, be careful. As in boxing, things can get messy when you let yourguard down. [4 1/2 stars]

PHOTO© FLYING MOON FILM PRODUCTION GMBH (FOOTBALL UNDER COVER) PHOTOCOURTESY OF MAGNOLIA PICTURES (BIGGER, STRONGER, FASTER) PHOTONICHOLAS JOHNSON/BELIEVE MEDIA & URBAN LANDSCAPES/REUTERS (KASSIM THE DREAM) PHOTOJUN TAKAGI (THE ZEN OF BOBBY V) PHOTONIC BOTHMA/EPA (KICKING IT) PHOTOCOURTESY OF ANNE MARIE FOX/NIGHT & DAY PICTURES (BALL DON'T LIE) PHOTO

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)