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ESPN Sports Doc Panel: A Discussion of Artistry

ESPN's panel discussion yesterday featured some of the biggest names in sports and documentary filmmaking. Find out what Albert Maysles, Barry Levinson, Barbara Kopple and Dan Klores had to say about their cinematic intersections with the world of sports.

The Panel

It was an impressive panel if there ever was one: documentary legend Albert Maysles (Grey Gardens, Gimme Shelter); Academy-Award winner Barry Levinson (Rain Man); famed documentarian Barbara Kopple (Shut Up & Sing); and award-winning filmmaker Dan Klores (Crazy Love). The moderator: ESPN's Chris Connelly. The subject? The discussion of the intersection of documentary film and sports, in celebration of the new ESPN series 30 for 30, featuring 30 documentaries on sports in honor of the institution's 30th anniversary.

All of the filmmakers present, with the exception of Maysles, have a sports doc in the works. For Kopple, it is a documentary on the Steinbrenners, the famous family of New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, as well as the Yankees themselves. Steinbrenner, a lightning rod in the world of sports, is sure to prove fascinating as a subject, along with the rest of his family, of which only so much is known. "I'm still earning their trust," she said. Kopple also indicated that she was very pleased with the footage she shot of Yankee Stadium being closed down. "It's some of the best footage I've ever shot in my life," she said. "I filmed a 90-year-old man with his grandsons, whose life's dream had been to be on the field of Yankee Stadium. His grandsons carried him down onto the field, and he started crying."

Barry Levinson, recent foray into documentary, Poliwood, is being screened at this year's Festival, spoke about his upcoming doc regarding the Baltimore Colts' desertion of the city of Baltimore in 1983. Levinson, a Balitmore native, indicated that he has a definite personal view in the film; he acknowledged that he was "torn up" when the Colts left town. The doc focuses on the team's marching band, who stole their uniforms from the stadium, kept them hidden in a mausoleum in a nearby cemetery, and would put them on and perform at various times over the years. The band did this for twelve years, and eventually, "they went to the steps of the Capitol building to perform the Colts fight song," Levinson explained. "A bill was up regarding whether or not to build a new football stadium, to entice a new team to come. They played the song, and everyone inside came out, and they ended up passing the bill."

Dan Klores' film deals with a subject familiar to all New Yorkers, if only with the most bitter association—it deals with Reggie Miller's infamous scoring of eight points in sixteen seconds in Game 1 of the 1995 Eastern Conference semifinals against the Knicks. "It goes back and forth in time," Klores said. "It deals with the '94 series between the Pacers and the Knicks as well." He went on to explain that the idea came from seeing a photograph of Miller shooting a shot during the '94 series. "I scanned the faces in the crowd at Madison Square Garden in the photo," Klores said. "Everyone looked absolutely horrified."

The discussion inevitably turned to the ins and outs of documentary filmmaking on a grander scale. The filmmakers spoke primarily about the lack of control documentary filmmakers have, especially in sports, where "anything can happen," as Maysles, who made a film about a fight between Muhammad Ali and Larry Holmes (Muhammad and Larry), put it. "The key to making documentaries," Maysles went on, "is to not plan your shooting. Let it happen. Forget about the control." Dan Klores agreed. "Forget planning," he said. "You have to just be there."

"I try to sneak up on scenes," added Levinson, "so they don't feel polished." There was a definite consensus amongst these highly skilled artists. To sum things up, Maysles put it simply: "The best documentaries rely on reality."

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