December 3, 2013

Q & A with the director of “Medora”

Photo courtesy of Jonathan Palmer/ the New York Times

By Noah Allison

A little less than an hour north of Louisville is a small Indiana town called Medora. In the state that prides itself on its high school basketball the Medora Hornets find themselves on the other end of the spectrum. A desolate small town of a little over 500 people, the tough economic times and lack of opportunity are represented in the Hornets high school basketball team, a team that went on a 44-game losing streak through 2009 and 2010.

Two filmmakers, Andrew Cohn and Davy Rothbart heard about this stalling town and struggling basketball team and set out to make a documentary capturing the adversity filled lives the boys on the team live. The two lived in Medora for the duration of 2011 documenting the team‘s goal of winning just one game and getting to know the story behind the blemished basketball record.

“Medora” the film will be premiering in Louisville on Sun. Dec. 8, at 8 pm at Baxter Avenue Filmworks. The premiere is open to all and is five dollars for high school and college students. The directors Andrew Cohn and Davy Rothbart were kind enough to take part in a Q&A about the film and their time spent in Medora.


Q: How difficult was the decision to move to Medora to start this documentary?


Cohn: The only hard part for me was that it was so sudden. We only got permission from the school two weeks prior to the 2011 season so we didn’t have much time to think about it. Typically, with a production this large, you would have several months to raise funds, do pre-production and the sort. We had to make the decision rather quickly whether we were going to do it or not. We both knew this was a film we felt like we were born to make, and really believed there was a great story there, so that part wasn’t hard. But the logistics of picking up and moving across the country, I was living in Brooklyn and Davy in L.A., was challenging.


Q: Upon arrival and the beginning stages of filming what was the mood of the town given your presence? How were you taken in? How difficult was it to actually start to get the real story to unfold as the people grew to understand your goal with this film?


Rothbart: In the beginning it was a little hard. Some folks were more skeptical than others. But I find that if you show genuine interest in people’s lives and real curiosity, people are willing to open up to you. That trust isn’t earned overnight, but because we were there for so long, and eventually became so ingrained within the community, you catch these raw and often intimate moments on camera.


Q: What was you goal with making this film?


Cohn: At first we thought it was just a basketball story about a team trying to win one game. Eventually, as the process unfolded, we began to see the struggling basketball team as a central metaphor for the town. Not only is the team struggling to compete, but the town is, as well. Telling the story of the town and the value of small towns across the country eventually became the goal of the film; asking the question: What is missed when towns like Medora fade off the map?

Q: Is this a sports documentary?


Rothbart: It’s, what I would call, a “slice of life” documentary. The basketball season and the story of this team trying to end this epic losing streak is the central story line throughout the film, without a doubt. But really, it’s an intimate, personal and raw look at four boys’ lives in a small town in southern Indiana. It gives audiences a glimpse of the challenges and also the triumphs of kids living in small towns like Medora.

Q: What does this film teach its viewers about the overlying power, beauty and meaning of sports, beyond simply winning and losing?


Cohn: I think it shows the power of sports to unite us. It also shows how even the small victories in life should be celebrated. I think it gives a realistic look at high school athletics in America, as well. So often we only celebrate the “champions” in athletics. I think, especially in amateur sports, it’s important to show the other values and lessons that can be learned in amateur athletics.


Q: In particular, what did this experience teach you, and what does this film teach the viewer about the culture of Indiana High School basketball?


Rothbart: Hopefully, folks can get a sense of how big high school basketball still is in the state of Indiana. I think most people know, but hopefully in can bring audiences into the world of high school basketball in Indiana just a little bit more. It’s such an intense experience, hopefully we can give audiences just a taste of it.


Q: What does this film expose about the current state of the country, the mid-west?


Cohn: I think it shows a way of life that’s fading away. Towns like Medora, and there are thousands of them across the country, are disappearing. I think it’s important for folks to ask themselves what these small communities mean to the country. Davy and I don’t pretend to have all the answers, but we think it’s an important question to ask.


Q: What does this film expose people to that they otherwise would not have given a consideration to in today’s world?


Rothbart: Not many folks are from a town of less than 500 people. Hopefully the film gives some insight to what living in a town like Medora is like. It’s such a unique experience, and one people will get to see when they watch the film. The film will show on PBS’ wonderful Independent Lens series this March, so I think Medora will have a lot more fans by then.


Q: How has your life changed, personally and professionally since your time spent in Medora?


Cohn: That part of the country will always have a special place in my heart. I learned so much about myself, and this great country, and about filmmaking during my time there. Meeting the people that live in Medora was such a profound experience, that even if the film hadn’t gone anywhere, it was still an amazing time in my life.


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