These are the movies ESPN has commissioned to mark its 30th anniversary. Topics include Wayne Gretzky's trade to the Los Angeles Kings (Oct. 6, directed by Peter Berg of "Friday Night Lights"); the Colts' leaving Baltimore (directed by Baltimore bard Barry Levinson, Oct. 13), and the death of the USFL (Oct. 20, Mike Tollin). And these and other film subjects are sports/life touchstones for me. I still have my USFL Washington Federals mug somewhere (was a Joe Gilliam fan). The Colts' departure set the stage for the Browns' bailing, didn't it? I was in LA on business when Gretzky was traded, and a TV-critic colleague from Edmonton was dispatched to the airport to cover the Great One's arrival
The full announcement is after the jump.
ESPN Films has released the final slate and viewing schedule for the first seven "30 for 30" films to be televised this fall on ESPN. Beginning October 6, the films will be aired on Tuesdays at 8 p.m. ET through November 10, with a special post-Heisman slot reserved for Saturday, Dec. 12. This marks the official beginning of ESPN's ambitious "30 for 30" film project, a unique undertaking by ESPN Films to celebrate ESPN's 30th anniversary by engaging well-known filmmakers to create documentaries centered on the last 30 years in sports.
Some of Hollywood's finest directors and producers such as Peter Berg, Barry Levinson, John Singleton, Ice Cube, Spike Jonze and Frank Marshall are among those participating in the "30 for 30" films project, exploring topics ranging from the end of the USFL to the title fight between Muhammad Ali and Larry Holmes to the story of the Baltimore Colts Marching Band which continued to march even though the team had moved to Indianapolis. Peter Berg's film exploring the effects of the shocking trade of Wayne Gretzky from Edmonton to Los Angeles in 1988 will kick off the series Tuesday, Oct. 6.
The finalized titles and air dates of the first seven films:
· Tuesday, Oct. 6, 8 p.m. - **Kings Ransom (Peter Berg)
· Tuesday, Oct. 13, 8 p.m. - **The Band That Wouldn't Die (Barry Levinson)
· Tuesday, Oct. 20, 8 p.m. - Small Potatoes: Who Killed the USFL? (Mike Tollin)
· Tuesday, Oct. 27, 8 p.m. - Muhammad and Larry (Albert Maysles)
· Tuesday, Nov. 3, 8 p.m. - Without Bias (Kirk Fraser)
· Tuesday, Nov. 10, 8 p.m. - The Legend of Jimmy The Greek (Fritz Mitchell)
· Saturday, Dec. 12, 9 p.m. - The U (Billy Corben)
**Kings Ransom and The Band That Wouldn't Die have both been named official selections of the 2009 Toronto International Film Festival's Mavericks programme.
Kings Ransom (Peter Berg)
On August 9, 1988, the NHL was forever changed with the single stroke of a pen. The Edmonton Oilers, fresh off their third Stanley Cup victory in four years, signed a deal exporting Wayne Gretzky, Canadian national treasure and the greatest hockey player ever, to the Los Angeles Kings. Acclaimed director Peter Berg presents the captivating story of the trade that knocked the wind out of an entire country and placed a star-studded city right at the humble feet of "The Great One."
The Band That Wouldn't Die (Barry Levinson)
In late March of 1984, a moving company secretly packed up the Baltimore Colts' belongings and its fleet of vans snuck off in the darkness of the early morning. A city of deeply devoted fans was left in shock and disbelief. What caused owner Robert Irsay to turn his back on a town that was as closely linked to its team as any in the NFL? Academy Award-winning filmmaker Barry Levinson, himself a long-standing Baltimore Colts fanatic, will probe that question in light of the changing relationship of sports to community. Through the eyes of members of the Colts Marching Band, Levinson will illustrate how a fan base copes with losing the team that it loves.
Small Potatoes: Who Killed the USFL? (Mike Tollin)
In 1983 the upstart United States Football League (USFL) had the audacity to challenge the almighty NFL. The new league did the unthinkable by playing in the spring and plucked three straight Heisman Trophy winners away from the NFL. The 12-team USFL played before crowds that averaged 25,000, and started off with respectable TV ratings. But with success came expansion and new owners, including a certain high profile and impatient real estate baron whose vision was at odds with the league's founders. Soon, the USFL was reduced to waging a desperate anti-trust lawsuit against the NFL, which yielded an ironic verdict that effectively forced the league out of business. Now, almost a quarter of a century later, Academy Award-nominated and Peabody Award-winning director Mike Tollin, himself once a USFL employee, will showcase the remarkable influence of those three years on football history and attempt to answer the question, "Who Killed the USFL?"
Muhammad and Larry (Albert Maysles)
In October of 1980, Muhammad Ali was preparing to fight for an unprecedented fourth heavyweight title against his friend and former sparring partner Larry Holmes. To say that the great Ali was in the twilight of his career would be generous: Most of his admiring fans, friends and fight scribes considered his bravado delusional. What was left for him to prove? In the weeks of training before the fight, documentarians Albert and David Maysles took an intimate look at Ali trying to convince the world and perhaps himself, that he was still "The Greatest." At the same time, they documented the mild-mannered and undervalued champion Holmes as he confidently prepared to put an end to the career of a man for whom he had an abiding and deep affection. In the raw moments after Ali's humbling defeat in this one-sided fight, the Maysles footage never received a public screening or airing. Here for the first time is the unseen filmed build up to that fight, accompanied by freshly shot interviews by Albert Maysles with members from both the Ali and Holmes camps, as well as others who were prime witnesses to one of the last chapters of Ali's legendary career.
Without Bias (Kirk Fraser)
More than two decades after his tragic cocaine overdose, the late Len Bias still leaves more questions than answers. When Bias dropped dead two days after the 1986 NBA Draft, he forever altered our perception of casual drug use and became the tipping point of America's drug crisis in the mid-80s. Future generations continue to face the harsh punishment of drug policies that were influenced by the public outcry after his heartbreaking death. Instead of becoming an NBA star, he became a one-man deterrent, the athlete who reminded everyone just how dangerous drug use can be. Amazingly, questions still linger about his death nearly a quarter-century later. How good could he have been in the pro ranks? Has he become underrated or overrated as the years pass? How could a University of Maryland superstar and Boston Celtics lottery pick be derailed by a cocaine binge? Was Bias a one-time user as we were led to believe, or was there a pattern of recreational use that led to his fatal last night? Did he fall in with the wrong crowd? In the most ambitious, comprehensive and uncompromising account of Bias' life and death ever captured on film, up-and-coming director Kirk Fraser utilizes dozens of interviews with Bias' closest teammates, friends and family in an effort to determine exactly what happened on that fateful night. Maybe it wasn't as much of a fluke as we thought.
The Legend of Jimmy The Greek (Fritz Mitchell)
The NFL Today on CBS was the preeminent sports program on television in the early 1980s. It was a perfect combination of reporting, analysis, predictions, humor and talent. But there was no personality on the show more popular than Jimmy "The Greek" Snyder. The son of Greek immigrants, Jimmy overcame early childhood tragedy, moved to Las Vegas, Nevada in the mid 1950s, and quickly became the biggest name in the world of sports handicapping. When CBS added him as an "analyst" on The NFL Today, "The Greek" not only further increased his stature as a sort of national folk hero, but he also gained an air of respectability never before associated with gamblers. Peabody Award-winning filmmaker Fritz Mitchell, who broke in as a researcher on The NFL Today, will examine Snyder's impact on the growth of sports gambling, while also taking a fresh look at The Greek's tragic downfall.
The U (Billy Corben)
Throughout the 1980s, Miami, Fla., was at the center of a racial and cultural shift taking place throughout the country. Overwhelmed by riots and tensions, Miami was a city in flux, and the University of Miami football team served as a microcosm for this evolution. The image of the predominantly white university was forever changed when coach Howard Schnellenberger scoured some of the toughest ghettos in Florida to recruit mostly black players for his team. With a newly branded swagger, inspired and fueled by the quickly growing local Miami hip hop culture, these Hurricanes took on larger-than-life personalities and won four national titles between 1983 and 1991. Filmmaker Billy Corben, a Miami native and University of Miami alum, will tell the story of how these "Bad Boys" of football changed the attitude of the game they played, and how this serene campus was transformed into "The U."
Other previously announced "30 for 30" projects are: Reggie Rock Bythewood (One Night in Vegas), Academy Award winner Bill Couturié (Guru of Go), Ice Cube (Straight Outta L.A.), Academy Award winner Morgan Freeman and Lori McCreary (One Simple Gesture), Academy Award winner Alex Gibney (Steve Bartman: Catching Hell), Jonathan Hock (The Best That Never Was), Academy Award nominee Steve James (No Crossover: The Trial of Allen Iverson), the duo of Lucas Jansen and Adam Kurland (Silly Little Game), Spike Jonze, Johnny Knoxville and Jeff Tremaine (Birth of Big Air), Peabody Award winner Dan Klores (Winning Time: Reggie Miller vs. The New York Knicks), two-time Academy Award winner Barbara Kopple (The Steinbrenner Family Business), Academy Award nominee Frank Marshall (Right to Play), Steve Michaels, Joel Surnow and Jonathan Koch (Charismatic), Academy Award nominee Brett Morgen (June 17, 1994), two-time NBA MVP and first-time filmmaker Steve Nash (Into the Wind), Academy Award nominee Ron Shelton (Jordan Rides the Bus), John Singleton (Marion Jones: Press Pause) and Jeff Zimbalist (The Two Escobars).
The remaining 23 films in the ESPN Films "30 for 30" project will be aired throughout 2010