Hump Day Movie: Undefeated
A highschool football doc that’s more intimate than Friday Night Lights
This Friday, August 12, TIFF Bell Lightbox opens Gleason, Clay Tweel’s documentary that follows the life of the former NFL cornerback Steve Gleason, who was diagnosed with ALS in 2011. He became a hero for his blocked punt against the Atlanta Falcons during the first New Orleans Saints game back in the Superdome after Hurricane Katrina. Later on, Steve Gleason has become a symbol of the resilience of the city itself. The documentary chronicles five years of Gleason’s life as his disease progresses and he learns to live with the toll it takes on him and his family. If you’re in the mood to feel all of the possible feelings, I would recommend you take a break from the heat this weekend and check this film out. Your tears will cool you, I promise.
Before that, you should strap on your shoulder pads and prepare for the emotional windsprint by checking out Daniel Lindsay and T. J. Martin’s deeply affecting 2011 documentary, Undefeated. One of my favourite films from TIFF 11 (and winner of the Academy Award for “Best Documentary Film” that the same year), Undefeated follows the trials and tribulations of the Manassas Tigers, a high school football team from North Memphis led by head coach Bill Courtney.
After a string of embarrassing losses, the film follows the team’s attempt to mount a winning campaign under the tutelage of Coach Bill, affectionately referred to as “Big Daddy Snowflake” by his team. And daddy he is, to many of them. The film deals quite seriously with the lack of fathers in this community. Very few of these young men have a strong paternal figure in their lives, and Bill Courtney often fills that role, taking a deep interest in the personal lives of his young charges. Without a father figure in his own life, it is as if he is trying to make up for lost time by providing the support he never had to his team.
For Undefeated, this game is a conduit to a better life outside the poverty of North Memphis. The coaching staff works hard for their team, eventually boarding one of the young men during the week to ensure that he has a place for a tutor to come and help him with his homework. Football in North Memphis is less of a game than an ecosystem, one where individuals are given the tools to work together to strive for something better. Directors Daniel Lindsay and T.J Martin captured over 500 hours of intimate, raw footage that provides a window into the hope and anguish that are part and parcel to my favourite sport. Check it out and bring your tissues.