I keep picking the movies that make people cry.
When I was at South by Southwest last year, I bawled my way through Thundersoul (a documentary about a Texas high school jazz band that showed at last year’s Indie Memphis Film Festival). Last night, I got all choked up over “Undefeated”, a documentary about the Manassas High School football program.
The documentary, which had its world premiere last night, follows the Manassas High Tigers through an unforgettable football season. It was directed by Dan Lindsay and TJ Martin, who found the team after the Commercial Appeal ran a story about player O.C. Brown’s unique living situation.
The team is a little bit ragtag. There’s Money, academically gifted, but unlikely to get a college football scholarship because of his small size; Chavis, a bad boy gone good; and O.C. Brown, a brilliant athlete who needs to pass the ACT to take advantage of college football scholarships. At the film’s center is volunteer coach Bill Courtney, who – motivated by his own father’s absenteeism – spends the season trying to turn these North Memphis boys into men of character through football.
Needless to say, you’re going to need some Kleenex.
The film is beautifully shot. While it’s honest about the grittiness of Manassas’ neighborhood, it’s hopeful and joyous without ever being condescending.
At last night’s screening, coach Bill Courtney and players Chavis Daniels and Montrail “Money” Brown were on hand to answer questions. They players said that watching the film was emotionally overwhelming, because they had forgotten so much of what happened that season.
When asked if Hollywood had changed them, Coach Courtney grabbed the mic and said “We haven’t been to Hollywood. We’re from Memphis, and this is Austin, Texas.”
“Undefeated” has two more showings at SXSW: tonight at 6 p.m. at the Westgate Theatre and Thursday at 12 p.m. at the Lamar Alamo B.