|Starring: Sean Penn, Jay Adams, Tony Alva, Jeff Ament
Director: Stacy Peralta
Year Of Release: 2001
Plot: Dogtown and Z-boys documents how in the 1970s skating went from being a relatively simple land-based pursuit and took off into the air with half-pipes and jumps, after a group of teenagers from Venice, California starting trying to copying the surfing moves of the likes of Larry Bertleman. They form the skateboarding team the Z-boys, but it starts to splinter almost as soon as its formed, with some of the boys thinking about going pro.
The Move-A-Day Project is a series of articles based on a multiude of subjects inspired by a different film each day. To find out more about the project click here, or for the full list of previous articles and future movies we’ll be covering click here.
I have to say that even though Im not a big sports fan, there are some documentaries about sport that transcend just being about people running around with a ball, and can be enjoyed by people who dont know their soccer from their cricket. In fact it might even be worth watching a few of the films below over the next few weeks, just to protest the dominance of the World Cup taking over the airwaves (and even the commercial breaks), with documentaries which show that in sport, whats happening behind the scenes is often far more interesting than whats happening on the pitch.
Heres my list of the best feature-length sports documentaries that youll enjoy even if you dont like sport…
Dogtown and Z-Boys (2001)
Director: Stacy Peralta
Whats its about: Directed by one of the original Z-boys, Stacy Peralta, Dogtown and Z-boys documents how in the 1970s skating went from being a relatively simple land-based pursuit into the air with half-pipes and jumps, after a group of teenagers from Venice, California starting trying to copying the surfing moves of the likes of Larry Bertleman. They form the skateboarding team the Z-boys, but it starts to splinter almost as soon as its formed, as some of the boys think about going pro.
Why Its Good: Its a documentary that both oozes cool and features some great personalities, as well as capturing a moment in time when a group of young men were truly discovering something new. When you see all those kids around town doing weird tricks on their skateboards, youll know where it all came from after watching Dogtown.
Director: Henry Alex Rubin, Dana Adam Shapiro
A game known as Murderball should give some hint at the rough and tumble action which is full-contact wheelchair rugby. The film focuses on the build-up to the 2004 Paralympics in Athens, with Team USA talking frankly about the sport as well as the difficulties of their personal lives, from how they became paraplegic to their sex lives. They also deal with one of the team heading north to coach the Canadian team, as well as meeting injured soldiers who may be the future of the team.
Why Its Good: Inspiring, poignant, thought provoking and challenging, Murderball is everything a documentary should be. Even those who hate sports will probably be mesmerised by the sheer velocity and passion of wheelchair rugby, a sport where you feel its as much about regaining your spirit after major injury as it is about the love of the game itself.
The Endless Summer (1966)
Director: Bruce Brown
What’s It About:The Endless Summer was one of the first and most important surf films, following Mike Hynson and Robert August as they travel round the world one summer, looking for the perfect wave. Heading through Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Tahiti and Hawaii, they seek out new surf spots and introduce boarding to the locals.
Why Its Good: More than being about surfing, its about the late 60s, with the two young men who the film follows almost embodying the spirit of freedom, possibility, openness and not living by the normal rules. Even the films loose style was a break from formalism of earlier documentaries. Beautifully shot and great fun to watch, its also one of the only sports documentaries selected for preservation by the Library of Congress National Film Registry for being culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.
Pumping Iron (1977)
Director: George Butler, Robert Fiore
Whats It About: A group of professional bodybuilders prepare for the 1975 Mr. Olympia and Mr. Universe. Five-time champion Arnold Schwarzenegger defends his Mr. Olympia title against Serge Nubret and the shy young deaf Lou Ferrigno, with the Austrian Oak not afraid of trying to psych out his competitors.
Why Its Good: The main interest in Pumping Iron is with Arnold in his pre-superstar days. Schwarzenegger later claimed a lot of the film was scripted, that he wasnt really the heartless asshole he comes across as in the film, and that hed just agreed to go along with what the filmmakers wanted. However looking at how hes been since becoming the Governator, where he does often seem rather Machiavellian, it does make you wonder whether theres more truth to Pumping Iron than hed like you to believe. It does make bodybuilding look bizarre, but Pumping Iron is very entertaining.
Hoop Dreams (1994)
Director: Steve James
Taking in five years in the lives of inner-city Chicago teens Arthur Agee and William Gates, Hoop Dreams follows their dreams of becoming basketball player. Starting off with their recruitment into an elite high school sports program and charting their journey past their graduation, their lives have both highs and lows as they strive to achieve their dreams.
Why Its Good: Its rare for a documentary to genuinely play out like a feature film, but Hoop Dreams does. The drama of under-privileged young people striving to surpass the limitation of class, economic position, race and education was almost bound to produce something interesting, but Hoop Dreams is extraordinary, to the point where you could almost remove the basketball and still have a truly riveting watch.
When We Were Kings (1996)
Director: Leon Gast
Pieced together from both known and previously unseen footage, When We Were Kings looks at the build-up to the legendary Rumble in the Jungle, when the aging Muhammad Ali took on the much younger World Heavyweight Champion, George Forman, in Zaire in 1974. With race, sport and legend all colliding in an event designed to be a landmark in both culture and boxing, can Ali regain the title taken from him for his refusal to be drafted into the United States Army during the Vietnam War?
Why Its Good: While much of the actual fight is shown, its the build-up thats fascinating, capturing the passion and problems of a unique moment in time, showing how the fight was as much about empowering black people and promoting African-Americans links to the continent of their ancestors as it was about the actual fight. It also features plenty of Alis trademark wit, charisma and ideas, and quite frankly hes always worth watching.
Riding Giants (2004)
Director: Stacy Peralta
Whats It About: Stacy Peraltas follow up to Dogtown is just as good as his earlier film. This one looks at the origins of surf culture and the lure of the big wave. Starting out with surfings Hawaiian beginnings, the film moves onto the evolution of the sport in the 1950s, when daredevils starting searching out ever bigger waves to ride. As much about the lure of the surf as the sport itself, the film focuses in on some of the characters who have changed the sport forever over the years.
Why Its Good: Just the footage of people trying to ride towering 50ft waves is astonishing and somewhat mesmerising, but when you add in the films focus not just on the sport, but why it becomes such an obsession for some, and you have a truly excellent documentary.
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