Sports fans, and fans of good films in general, will have more opportunities this year to take in some on-and-off the field drama at CIFF 2022.
The Calgary International Film Festival is showing five must see documentaries this year. They feature some of the all-time sporting greats, from Yogi Berra to Wayne Gretzky, alongside stories that touch on current social issues in sports like racism and Indigenous rights.
“It was just kind of unique this year that there were so many good sports documentaries, we usually expect to have one or two in a given year,” said Brian Owens, CIFF’s artistic director.
“It’s been a great year, and if anything the programmers only complaint is that we had a lot more good films than we could possibly fit into the festival.”
Owens guessed that the number of films presented to programmers to choose from for this year was due in part to the pandemic, and the increased hunger by the public for more sports.
“Sports went away for a little bit at the pandemic, and then were some of the first things to come back to keep the rest of us entertained while we were under lockdown,” he said.
“And so in many ways, I think there’s a re-look, or a fresh look at the way sports play a role in our lives, but it’s also interesting in the sense that several of [the films] also are not just about sports.”
Sports films connecting audiences
Owens said that it was exciting to have the selection this year. Hopefully it will bring in new audiences interested in sports that might also attend other film screenings.
“I see these movies as building bridges and closing gaps between our regular audience, and a brand new audience that can participate and have a great time,” he said.
And vice-versa for audience members who aren’t necessarily sports fans, taking the time to check out these films.
“They’re great character pieces, and you get to learn a lot. Maybe about a realm that you don’t consider yourself a part of.”
A fresh look at issues in sporting culture
Black Ice, directed by Hubert Davis, touches on contemporary hockey issues. It examines the racism that Black players have faced in the sport, from the segregated leagues of the 19th Century to modern racism in the NHL.
Another film showing this year is Imagining the Indian: The Fight Against Native American Mascoting, directed by Aviva Kempner and Ben West. This film examines the fight to end the use of Indigenous names, logos, and mascots in sport. It’s set against the backdrop of the appropriation of Indigenous culture and racial injustice.
Owens said that it wasn’t intentional by CIFF to seek out a theme for these sports films this year.
“It ended up being a happy coincidence of timing, because we’re all dealing with a lot of issues right now. But especially I think we’ve all been awakened to the fact that we need to be better when it comes to dealing with issues surrounding race,” he said.
“It was part of a conversation that we would have had with this festival overall, and so when a couple of those sports docs really honed in on that issue, it was just perfect timing. I think people are gonna see real value in both of those two films.”
Historical look at some all time sporting greats, and not so greats
One of the other must-see hockey documentaries is Ice Breaker: The 1972 Summit Series, directed by Robbie Hart. It portrays the series between Canada and the Soviet Union that was watched by more than 170 million people in both countries.
The film focuses on more than just the games. It touches on the role of sports in diplomacy, and how it put a human face on the Soviet Union during a time of rising tensions and potential for conflict between the USSR and the West.
“Sports can build a bridge, and it’s really cool to watch this documentary showing the way that you can use your voice to build a bridge,” said Owens.
“Also, what ultimately the victory and what it did for Canadian identity was really cool. A bit of a history lesson for me, but I think people will find themselves kind of like cheering again as they’re watching it.”
Another one of the all-time greats in baseball is chronicled in It Ain’t Over, directed by Sean Mullin. This film is an intimate portrayal of baseball catcher Yogi Berra. It captures his wit, charm, and MVP career in America’s national pastime. It features interviews with Berra’s granddaughter, former teammates, and even Billy Crystal.
“I cannot reiterate how much fun It Ain’t Over is to watch,” said Owens.
“It’s a totally family friendly, nostalgic look at a time when athletes didn’t have to be pretty and still be good at the game, and be loved for that.”
CIFF also is showing The Grizzlie Truth, directed by Kathleen S. Jayme, that explores the sudden departure of the Vancouver Grizzlies in 2001 to become the Memphis Grizzlies. The film touches on the die-hard fans of one of the losing-est teams in NBA history, and the alleged untold mystery over its sale and relocation.
For more details on the Calgary International Film Festival, see ciffcalgary.ca.