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SXSW: Facing Nolan

Nolan Ryan is one of the greatest baseball pitchers of all time. As a power pitcher he had one of the fastest pitches and broke record and after record, chasing Sandy Koufax’s milestones of most no-hitters and most strike-outs. Many of his records are still unbeaten and could stay that way. He played for the Mets and the Angels but found that his home state of Texas was calling and made the career move to the Astros and eventually the Rangers. He played a whopping 27 seasons. And while he didn’t finish on top, he did have a marvelous career that got better even when he reached his 40s. We don’t talk enough about how much of a baseball legend Nolan Ryan is… and one documentary sets out to fix that.

Directed Bradley Jackson, Facing Nolan is a charming documentary that is sure to please any crowd. At the world premiere, Jackson called it a love letter to baseball and to Texas. This film has a lot of heart and treats its subject with both reverence and tongue-in-cheek humor. Nolan is portrayed as a family man who was extraordinary talented but never let his career take him away from what mattered most to him. His wife Ruth Nolan is an integral part of his success and her story runs parallel to his throughout the film. Talking heads include friends and family, retired baseball players, particularly Nolan’s peers, journalists, experts and the man himself. The documentary does a great job creating both tension and laugh out loud moments. Viewers will come away from this film with newfound appreciation for Nolan Ryan’s extraordinary career.

Facing Nolan had its world premiere at the 2022 SXSW Film Festival.

Note to add: Facing Nolan will be released theatrically June 24th and digitally July 19th. Visit the official website for more details.

Sundance: La Guerra Civil

When Oscar de la Hoya and Julio César Chávez went head-to-head in the boxing ring, it was an event. Referred to as the “Ultimate Glory”, this 1996 match not only pitted two of the most talented boxers against each other, it also started a cultural war. Julio César Chávez was the pride and joy of Mexico. He holds the record of the longest undefeated streak which began with his very first professional match. He was a champ that Mexicans could get behind. Oscar de la Hoya represented the expats. The Mexicans who left their home country years ago to seek opportunities in the States. De la Hoya showed promise at an early age and admired the great Chávez. But the Mexicans scored de la Hoya. Despite his 100% Mexican heritage and being fluent in Spanish, they felt he wasn’t Mexican enough. Not like Chávez. So when it came to that fateful day in 1996, Chávez stood with his country rallying behind him. But de la Hoya came armed with youthful vigor and a secret weapon: a brilliant coach who taught him how to take Chávez down.

Directed by Eva Longoria Bastón, La Guerra Civil expertly demonstrates not only the importance of the Chávez vs de la Hoya fight but also how the careers of these two boxing champions were intrinsically tied to their cultural identities. Both Chávez and de la Hoya were interviewed for the documentary along with sports journalists, latinx celebrities, family members and various experts. There is an air of familiarity in the film. Perhaps the friendly vibe prevented the documentary from going more in-depth into serious matters involving the two subjects including their drug addictions and various tragedies. These are briefly mentioned but not discussed at length.

The documentary is bilingual with interviewees speaking English and Spanish. 

La Guerra Civil premiered at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival.

AFI Fest: Citizen Ashe

Directed by Rex Miller and Sam Pollard, Citizen Ashe is a thoroughly engrossing documentary about the professional and personal life of tennis pro and activist Arthur Ashe. The film follows his journey from his humble beginnings in Richmond, Virginia, to his rise in a sport dominated by white men, to the Civil Rights era and to his unfortunate early demise due to AIDS related pneumonia. Ashe bridged the divide between the white and black communities with his entrance into the world of professional tennis. He broke barriers as a black man in the sport but knew that ruffling feathers would keep him being accepted. However, the calling to activism grew within him and he took strides to be more outspoken about the plight of his community. He used his platform to speak out about civil rights and the AIDS epidemic and to encourage the next generation of tennis players. The documentary was made with the blessing of his widow Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe and includes interviews with his brother, his mentee John McEnroe and more.

Citizen Ashe recently premiered at the 2021 AFI Fest as part of the Documentaries programming. The film hits theaters in early December followed by a broadcast premiere on CNN and streaming on HBO Max.

AFI Fest: Golden Age Karate

From a very young age, Jeff Wall showed that he had the chops to be an athlete. When his mom enrolled him in karate classes he thrived. He won pretty much every competition he entered into and quickly moved up the ranks to earn his black belt. It wasn’t enough to just compete, he wanted to share his love with others. In Sindha Agha’s short film Golden Age Karate, we see Wall teach karate to elderly residents at a local nursing home. He empowers his students by teaching them something new and helping them get in tune with their bodies. This delightful and heartfelt documentary short is a glimmer of hope in an era of generational strife.

Golden Age Karate premiered at the 2021 AFI Fest as part of their Meet the Press programming.

SXSW: Luchadoras

Ciudad Juarez, Mexico is one of the most dangerous cities in the world.  Between the years of 1993 and 2005, hundreds of women were brutally murdered, many discovered mutilated in the dessert and others never to be recovered. This violence against women in particular came from two dangerous forces: a drug cartel that wields incredible power still to this day and a deeply entrenched culture of machismo. Although the women of Ciudad Juarez live in constant fear of violence, they still manage to survive and thrive. For some, they find physical, emotional and mental strength as luchadoras: female Lucha Libre wrestlers known for wearing colorful costumes and masks in the ring.

Directed by Paola Calvo and Patrick Jasim, Luchadoras is a powerful documentary that follows three women wrestlers, Lady Candy, Baby Star and Mini Sirenita, as they transcend their circumstances and find strength through their sport. The resiliency of these women is astounding. A must-see for anyone seeking out feminist documentaries or who were inspired by stories like GLOW on Netflix.

Trigger warning: the film discusses violence against women. For those with hearing sensitivities like myself, there are several scenes in which the low battery chirp from a fire alarm can be heard.

Luchadoras had its world premiere at the virtual 2021 SXSW Film Festival.

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