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Notes from the Underground
Adam Duerson
May 19, 2008
Brace yourself for a bumper crop of topflight indie sports films
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May 19, 2008

Notes From The Underground

Brace yourself for a bumper crop of topflight indie sports films

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THINK OF the Tribeca/ 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 indie productions can create buzz and find an audience and a distributor. (Success stories from 2007 include The First Saturday in May and The Grand, which hit cineplexes this year.) Twelve sports movies were screened at this year's second annual fest. Here's a peek at several that deserve a wider audience.

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 their frustrations. For Sticky those frustrations revolve around his upbringing as an orphan accustomed to being told he isn't good enough everywhere except the court. The ultimate question is whether basketball will save Sticky's soul. It's not the most original idea, but hoops fans will appreciate the authenticity of the basketball scenes. [3 stars] (out of five)

The stakes in Susan Koch's and Jeff Werner's soccer documentary Kicking It are not high: No glory or lucre awaits the winners of the 2006 Homeless World Cup in Cape Town. But the pleasure of being part of a team—not to mention the break from their hardscrabble existences—is more than enough for the players; one, a 62-year-old from Spain named Jesus, calls winning a game "the best moment of my life." [3 stars]

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

When the Iranian women's national soccer team plays a German club in Tehran near the end of Football Under Cover, directors Ayat Najafi and David Assmann aren't allowed to sit in the stands—in Iran, men are forbidden from watching the opposite sex play sports. It's a poignant climax to an engaging documentary about 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 Iranian men for their interest in athletics.) Najafi, who ends up watching the game through a hole in a gate, and Assmann provide their audience with an insider's look at life in an insular society. [3 1/2 stars]

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

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

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