NEW YORK -- One of the things that makes sports so great is that every time an event goes down, a story unfolds. But often in the process of that story unfolding, the story never gets told.
We find passion for the sport but never the passion in it. Sport moves too fast, we get too caught up in the moments, too mentally (and physically) wrapped up in what we want to happen next -- a walk-off home run, a last-second 3-pointer, a 56-yard FG with triple zeroes on the clock. Sports for so many of us is about the joy of the moment and not the sport itself. So sometimes we need a reminder of why we fell in love with the games that we are in love with in the first place.
We need to be told stories.
Film has always been a great storyteller of sports. Historically not as good as print -- Gary Ross' movie "Seabiscuit" doesn't come close to Laura Hillenbrand's book of the same name, "Searching For Bobby Fischer" can't touch Brad Darrach's "The Day Bobby Blew It" 1973 Playboy piece, there hasn't been a basketball film as good as David Halberstam's "The Breaks of the Game" or Rick Telander's "Heaven Is a Playground," and the movie "Bingo Long" doesn't do justice to the Negro Leagues the way Lawrence Hogan's "Shades Of Glory" does -- but it has found a way to give sports a depth that is often lost in the activity of athletics.
It finds a way to take us away from the sport, but take us inside. It finds a way to make us understand.
Last weekend during the Tribeca Film Festival I went in search of that piece of cinematic artwork that would be as good as last year's "Rhythm in the Rope," which made me understand why jumping rope is so important to the lives of little girls in Brooklyn and young guys in Tokyo.
There were three films I thought would have that chance to move me the way "When We Were Kings" did when I first saw it, the way "Field Of Dreams" moved the world. I zeroed in on "Planet B-Boy" (about break dancing), "Chávez" (Julio César Chávez) and "The Power of the Game" (soccer). Of the 14 films that gained entry into the festival's sports division, these were the ones I had a feeling would tell me the greatest stories, the stories worth the sacrifice of possibly missing the Kentucky Derby, Game 7 of the Jazz/Rockets series and the De La Hoya/Mayweather fight.
"Chávez" was a solid film, nothing spectacular, but it did give a look into what it was like to have been JC (the film makes you feel that the JC should stand for Jesus Christ for the way Chávez is revered in Mexico) during his reign as boxing's most important non-heavyweight. Although the story of Chávez's career and life was interesting, the film doesn't come close to having the impact of the documentary ("Ring Of Fire") on boxer Emile Griffith two years ago -- one of the most fascinating sports docs ever done on one athlete's life.
"The Power of The Game" did live up to the hype. Very similar to the Konweiser brothers' basketball epic "Crossover," made in 2004, "Power" doesn't tell the story as much as it tells the meaning of why a particular sport is so important in the world's existence. In America, we often hear soccer is the world's sport but never fully grasp how and why. We see the hysteria of fans at the matches, we see the images of the young kids playing in their bare feet in lots full of broken glass. But until you see this film, see the importance the sport plays in the lives of all those connected to it, see how the passion travels from a female journalist who is forbidden to cover soccer in Iran to Berlin to Argentina to the United States (and the apathy of Landon Donovan) to the incredible story of a "street football" organization in Senegal to South Africa's preparation for the 2010 World Cup, you won't understand a sentence like, "We don't say take religion over football or take football over religion. We say make a choice."
But a funny thing happened on the way to "Planet B-Boy" I missed it. Got to the screening five minutes after the crowd was able to enter. "Oversold," they told me. The pass I had around my neck meant nothing. Membership had no privileges.
So, with missing a film I believed had the chance to do for break dancing what "Spellbound" did for the sport of words, I looked in the program to check if there was a film I could see to kill time. So I walked into Theater 11 where "Sons of Sakhnin United" was playing. And just like a mid-major school you've never heard of in the NCAA tournament, this film came out of nowhere and had me believing that the people in Theater 12 watching "PBB" were missing out on the fest's BKS (best-kept secret).
It's an unbeautifully shot film about the most popular game in the world being played in a place in the world where the most conflict exists: It's the story of a multi-ethnic soccer team in Israel.
It's the 2004-05 season and the B'nei Sakhnin team is trying to avoid being removed from the Israeli Premiere League. They are not a good team, they are constantly getting beat, and they have a coach who has chosen to fill the roster with some players who can be said "are not very popular" with the die-hards.
It tells the story of the coach (Eyal Lachman), the star player (Abbas Suan), the broadcaster who calls the games, an equipment manager who sprinkles salt on the team's jerseys "to make the evil eye disappear," the wife of the star player and one fan who borderlines on "stalking" to the degree that he says one of the most unforgettable lines in sports film doc history: "Soccer is like a disease, a victory is like an orgy."
It's their story and of all of the people in and in-between their lives. It's 90 minutes of how powerful sports films can be in the hands of a director (Christopher Browne) who really cares about not letting the sport get in the way of the story being told.
As the day ended and I kept hearing about the films I missed ("Unstrung," a film about tennis, "Doubletime," a film about double dutch/jump rope, and "The Grand," a poker film starring the Golden State Warriors' new mascot, Woody Harrelson), I began to realize as good as the movies were, there had to be more.
For every sports film that has come along to move us, to give us a glimpse of some athlete's life ("Raging Bull") or of true lives lived inside a sport ("Remember the Titans") or to make James Caan a star ("Rollerball"), there have been those that the public has never heard of, those that if given an opportunity to shine -- to be seen -- could change the way we feel about a certain sport or remind us why these "games" have such an impact in our lives.
At some point before T-Mac didn't get out of the first round, I said to self, "There has to be another 'Hoop Dreams' out there somewhere." I just have to hope that next year Robert De Niro will help me find it.
Scoop Jackson is an advisory board member of the Tribeca/ESPN Sports Film Festival and has been involved in various documentary sports films as writer/contributor such as "Crossover," "Hooked," "Battlegrounds," "Just For Kicks," and is the creative consultant on the upcoming documentary "Deconstructing Allen Iverson." Sound off to Scoop here.