City Sports: Tribeca Film/ESPN

City Sports: Tribeca Film/ESPN

The 12th annual Tribeca Film Festival has come and gone. New York’s most famous celebration of movies began on April 17 and ended this past Sunday after showing hundreds of feature films, documentaries, and shorts in various cinemas throughout the city. The festival was founded in 2002 by actor Robert De Niro, film producer Jane Rosenthal and real estate investor and philanthropist Craig Hatkoff in an attempt to revitalize Lower Manhattan after the September 11, 2001 attacks. More than a decade later, the event draws over three million filmgoers and features not only movie screenings but also speaking panels of both A-list and up-and-coming writing, directing and acting talent.

The festival certainly attracts its fair share of cerebral films, political features and comedies, but did you know that the 11-day event also presents a wealth of well-made sports films, both documentaries and fiction narratives? Since 2006, ESPN and the Tribeca Film Festival have partnered to explore the ways that independent movies and athletics intersect. The Tribeca/ESPN Sports Film Festival runs concurrently with the rest of the TFF program, but gives sports films the opportunity to shine as their own genre. The event highlights 10 wonderfully different features and accompanies them with special presentations and conversations with the writers, directors and athletes behind the films. Here’s the breakdown of the stars of last week’s festival:

“When the Garden Was Eden:”
“Eden,” a documentary film by native New Yorker and actor-director Michael Rapaport, was the undeniable centerpiece of the TFF/ESPN event. The 2012 best-selling book of the same name written by Harvey Araton inspired the movie. It tells the tale of the Knicks in the 1960s and 1970s — a time of volatility and change for both the city of New York and its NBA team. The film features interviews with Knicks players of the era, including Jerry Lucas, Clyde Frazier, Earl Monroe, Willis Reed, Bill Bradley, Phil Jackson and more. The film is especially relevant considering Phil Jackson’s recent emergence from retirement to helm the Knicks as franchise president. Official press from the festival calls the movie “a testament to the breathless energy that defines the city and its sporting heroes” and the positive reviews it has been garnering suggests that “When the Garden Was Eden” is exactly that and more. It will air on ESPN in the fall.

“Slaying the Badger:”
If hoops aren’t your thing, keep an eye out for “Slaying the Badger,” a British documentary written and directed by John Dower. It profiles American cyclist Greg LeMond, who became the first non-European athlete to win the Tour de France in 1986. He won the event twice more in ’89 and ’90 and can count himself amongst the elite (and small — there are only seven) group of athletes to have won the Tour three times. “Slaying the Badger” follows Lemond’s Tour experience in 1986 with a special focus on his rivalry with friend, mentor and fellow cyclist Bernard Hinault. Footage from the Tour de France and exclusive interviews make John Dower’s 78-minute film a must-see for sports enthusiasts.

“Intramural,” a 100-minute comedy directed by NYU graduate Andrew Disney and written by Bradley Jackson was a welcome change from the multitude of documentaries. TFF/ESPN press for the film calls it a “full-throttle and hilarious sendup of inspirational sports movies” that “harnesses every cliché and overused trope to tell one of the greatest intramural sports movies of all time.” “Intramural” follows fifth-year college senior Caleb Fuller as he seeks redemption for his flag football team. It stars Massachusetts native Jake Lacy, Kate McKinnon, Nikki Reed, Jay Pharaoh and Beck Bennett. “Intramural” is to be released in conjunction with the beginning of the 2014 NFL season.

The aforementioned three films certainly weren’t the only ones to grace the silver screen last week. Soccer movies were also heavily featured; a special event during the festival called “30 for 30: Soccer Stories” showcased a series of ESPN shorts and was accompanied with talks led by filmmakers Ezra Edelman, Daniel Battsek and ESPN representatives to discuss “30 for 30” and the impending World Cup. Included in the “30 for 30” series were: “Next Goal Wins,” a British film following the experiences of the American Samoan national team and their struggles to win an official match after being labeled “the worst team in the world” and “Maradona ’86,” which takes on the soccer world, profiling Argentinian athlete Diego Maradona and his accomplishments at the ’86 World Cup.

The Tribeca/ESPN Film Festival celebrates the competitive spirit and the excitement inherent in athletics with its 2014 selection of films. Watch out for these titles as they become more widely distributed to theatres countrywide.