Meet the 2013 SXSW Filmmakers #41: Davy Rothbart & Andrew Cohn Follow the Lives of 4 High School Basketball Players in ‘Medora’

Meet the 2013 SXSW Filmmakers #41: Davy Rothbart & Andrew Cohn Follow the Lives of 4 High School Basketball Players in 'Medora'
Meet the 2013 SXSW Filmmakers #41: Davy Rothbart & Andrew Cohn Follow the Lives of 4 High School Basketball Players 'Medora'

Davy Rothbart and Andrew Cohn’s upcoming HS basketball doc “Medora,” has received its fair share of comparisons to “Hoop Dreams” over the last couple months, but the film’s multi-faceted portrayal of a once booming community is more than capable of standing on its own. Shot over the course of a year, the film provides an impressive scope to its portrayal of a dwindling population and the families and children living within it and giving a new perspective to the financial crisis affects on America’s small town communities.

What it’s about: 4 boys from rural Medora, Indiana fight to end their HS basketball team’s losing ways as their dwindling town faces the threat of extinction.

About the filmmaker:  Davy Rothbart is the creator of FOUND Magazine, a frequent contributor to public radio’s “This American Life”, and author of the essay collection “My Heart Is An Idiot” and the story collection “The Lone Surfer of Montana, Kansas.” He writes regularly for GQ and Grantland, and his work has also appeared in The New Yorker and The New York Times. He lives in Los Angeles. 

Andrew Cohn is a writer and filmmaker living in Brooklyn. He is the creator and co-producer of the off-Broadway play “FOUND: People Find Stuff. Now It’s a Show.” In 2009, Cohn wrote and directed the documentary-short “Dynamic Tom,” which was featured on McSweeney’s Wholphin No. 12 DVD. His short film “Chile Road” is due out next year.

What else do you want audiences to know about your film? Years ago, Medora was a booming rural community with prosperous farms, an automotive parts factory, a brick plant, and a thriving middle class. The factories have since closed, crippling Medora’s economy and its pride. The population has slowly dwindled to around 500 people. Drug use is common, the school faces consolidation, and as one resident put it, “This town’s on the ropes.”

Our documentary, Medora, follows the down-but-not-out Medora Hornets varsity basketball team over the course of their 2011 season, capturing the players’ stories both on and off the court. The Hornets were ranked dead last in the state when we arrived, after recently going winless for an entire season, and the team’s struggle to compete bears eerie resonances with the town’s fight for survival.

Medora is an in-depth, deeply personal look at small-town life, a thrilling, underdog basketball story, and an inspiring tale of a community refusing to give up hope despite the brutal odds stacked against them — we like think of it as a real-life, modern-day Hoosiers. On a grander scale, it’s a film about America, and the thousands of small towns across the country facing the same fight. As one townsperson told us, “Once we lose these small towns, we can’t get them back.”

What was your biggest challenge in developing this project? The sheer volume of footage. We shot for a year, following a dozen central characters, and had accumulated over 600 hours of footage. Sifting through it all and keying in on which story threads to focus on was a gargantuan (though ultimately rewarding) undertaking. 

It was also a challenge to create a different kind of sports documentary, one that’s not built around a team’s drive for a championship, or a single inspiring head coach. The basketball season provides an arc for the movie but is not the main narrative structure. How do you tell the panoramic story of an entire town without becoming too sprawling? How do you weave basketball into a story that’s more focused on the players’ struggles and triumphs off the court? Wrestling with these questions required a constant balancing act, but we found some creative solutions and we’re happy and proud of the way everything came together.

What would you like SXSW audiences to come away with after seeing your film?
 We’d like them to get a sense for the value of small towns, and all that is being lost as these towns continue to fade off the map, in a global economy that has rendered them obsolete. We want people to understand the character, courage, and resiliency of the kids who populate these towns, and be moved by their stories. As one Medora High School teacher says in the film, “You don’t have to do great things to be a person.”

What do you have in the works? Davy Rothbart: I have 5 films in various stages of development and production– a love story between a bouncer at a strip club in rural Jamaica and a successful Swedish journalist (narrative feature); a story about the connection between a Hungarian street kid and a faded American pop star (narrative feature); a crime story about young twin sisters from a Sioux reservation in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula who head to Detroit to investigate the mysterious disappearance of their uncle (narrative feature); a cloak-and-dagger love story about a down-and-out Chicago street musician who tangles with a cabal of international spies (narrative feature); and finally, a documentary feature that follows the life of Emmanuel Durant, Jr., a boy in inner-city Washington, D.C., over the course of 10 turbulent years. 

Andrew Cohn: I’m finishing a couple of screenplays, and also editing a short film I shot last year called “Chile Road,” which follows a heartbroken man named Enrique as he attempts to launch a Food Network TV show about New Mexico’s famed Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail.

indiewire invited SXSW directors to tell us about their films, including what inspired them, the challenges they faced and what they’re doing next. We’ll be publishing their responses leading up to the 2013 festival.

Keep checking HERE every day up to the launch of the festival on March 8 for the latest profiles.

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