"Medora" Small Town Hoops & Hopes

Written By Sun-Times Wire Posted: 12/03/2013, 04:01pm


The underdog prep basketball documentary “Medora” has many lines that will resonate with you long after you untie your Chuck Taylors.

My favorite line comes from the gentle Medora Hornets cheerleading coach Denny Temple who says, “You don’t have to do big things and great things to be a person.”

That’s zen in a Southern Indiana way.

Former Chicagoan and “Found” magazine founder Davy Rothbart and Andrew Cohn directed and produced “Medora,” a stirring story about the Hornets 2011 season. Medora, based an hour north of Louisville, Ky., finished 2010 with an 0-22 record.

Rothbart and Cohn will screen the 82-minute movie and host a Q & A with player Dylan McSoley in a one-time-only showing at 7 p.m. Dec. 5 at the Music Box Theatre, 3733 N. Southport ($10) .

“We could have easily done a full movie on Denny,” Rothbart said last week after a screening in Kansas City, Mo. “We shot 600 hours of footage. We had to whittle down to 80 minutes. We love Denny. The cheerleaders are also the girl’s basketball team. And their stories in many ways mirror the stories of the boys. They have the same challenges at home. They have to deal with the same stuff. Denny is almost out of out a Christopher Guest movie. Someone told me last night they got most emotional when they saw him (in the film) putting up mini jerseys in the (school) hallway. The community is filled with people like that. For every troubled situation there’s a couple other people reaching out with a helping hand.


“We love Medora.”

You will love “Medora.”

“Medora” is different from the feel-good “Hoosiers” or the extended play “Hoop Dreams” documentary. “Medora” looks at an an entire basketball program in the whirlpool of a dying farm town (pop. 500). Many kids from broken homes have turned to booze, cigs and meth.

Andrew Cohn (left) and Davy Rothbart

Andrew Cohn (left) and Davy Rothbart

Rothbart lived in Chicago between 1996 and 2001. He said the Chicago-centric “Hoop Dreams’ was a film that inspired him to make documentaries. Of the inevitable hoops-films comparisons he said, “At least people had a reference point, saying this is a rural ‘Hoop Dreams’ or a real life ‘Hoosiers,’ because 30, 40 years later, this is what those small towns are dealing with. But we weren’t working under the shadow of those films.”

“Medora” is as easy going as the rural Indiana landscape. The documentary does not have any filmmaker narration and the beautiful score does not guide the viewer with dramatics as is the case with many ESPN documentaties.

Here’s the trailer:

One scene that could arguably cross an ethical line was shooting Medora students getting drunk at a party. Rothbart explained, “You see Rusty (Rogers, starting player) transform from a party kid himself to when he makes the decision not to drink, which is a crucial switch. It’s not just to be sensational. Rusty was probably in the worst shape when we got there. He was living in his car. His mom was in rehab. He had dropped out of school. He has totally turned it around.

“We became friends with them. I’m 38, I don’t have kids. But a lot of their parents were our age. The role of the filmmaker expands. I helped them with homework, gave them advice on romantic relationships. On the other hand, we’re telling them what’s going on in our lives. When you approach people with genuine kindness, curiostity and compassion, people are eager to share their stories with you. Just the fact you care what somone’s opinions are of the world, they don’t find it intrusive. They find it meaningful, as did we. At first some of them were sullen but they quickly warmed up. We got to know these people in a powerful way.

We wanted to ask the question, ‘What is lost when these small towns fade off the map?’.”

Chuck Taylor was from the small town of Azaila, Indiana

Chuck Taylor was from the small town of Azaila, Indiana

The “Medora” soundtrack, currently available digitally, is a perfect organic complement to the film. Original music was composed by Bobby Emmett, keyboardist for the Shooter Jennings Band and Hammond organ player for the Detroit band The Sights. The soundtrack runs from country-folk idioms to Emmett’s honky tonker “Never Take Me Alive.”

Ann-Arbor singer-songwriter Chris Bathgate lends a tender hand, most notably with his chimes-and-acoustic guitar-ballad “The Real World,” used as a backdrop for the school’s homecoming dance. “A lot of Ann Arbor musicians are used on the score,” Rothbart said. “Chris has two songs in the film that are just beautiful.”

Rothbart previously directed the documentary about the politically-stoked Chicago punk band Rise Against. “Medora” was launched off a Kickstarter campaign that raised $65,000.

“That was awesome because we got a sense on how the story was resonating with people,” Rothbart said. “That got us through a year. We still needed more help. East Side Films (“Little Miss Sunshine”) came on at the end to give us additional funds help with color, music and sound. In a way it is a DIY enterprise. The fact is that filmmaking used to be so expensive—the film stock itself–only a select few had the resources to make a film. Now, two guys like Andrew and I who don’t have a ton of filmmaking background can just roll in there and shoot and come out with something we’re happy with.”

The filmmakers invite you to get happy with this Play Like a Hornet  game.