It's not all that often that the worlds of sport and cinema collide in really deep ways. Make no mistake: when it happens well, it can be a magical thing—a Raging Bull or Hoop Dreams makes up for an awful lot of dreck—but more often the choice we're given is between Air Bud: Golden Receiver or Air Bud: Seventh Inning Fetch. Either way, it's a dog.
This Sunday a documentary comes to Amherst Cinema that aims to add a point to the side of the good. Not Just a Game sets out to prove the premise of its title by examining our national sports through the lens of our social and political histories. Based on screenwriter and Nation magazine sports editor Dave Zirin's bestselling book The People's History of Sports, the film follows the trail of American sports through a multitude of eras, pausing to consider how it both reflected and even glamourized nationalism and militarism, sexism and racism, homophobia and gender inequality. Zirin, whose tenacity and intelligence has drawn comparisons to Hunter S. Thompson, will be on hand for the 7:30 p.m. screening, along with executive producer Sut Jhally.
As important is the story's second act, without which director Jeremy Earp's film might be just tragedy. There, he highlights the often overlooked athletes who refused to simply play the game—men and women like the 1968 Olympic medalists on the film's poster, giving their now famous Black Power salute. (Ironically, the Australian runner Peter Norman—a supporter of the protest and the silver medalist on the podium—has been edited out of the shot.) In an era when so many professional athletes make headlines for less noble reasons, a film like this is a welcome reminder—for the sports world and the press that covers it alike—that there are bigger stories out there.
Also opening at Amherst this week is Julia Bacha and Rula Salameh's fast-moving documentary Budrus. It tells the story of Ayed Morrar, a nonviolent protester trying to save his Palestinian village from destruction. When Israel's Separation Barrier threatens the existence of his home, Morrar manages something most think impossible: he brings together the often prickly political factions of the Palestinians to fight. Yet, even then, success eludes him until his 15-year-old daughter Iltezam forms a complementary women's movement to fight alongside her father.
With father and daughter on the front lines, Bacha (co-writer of the Al Jazeera documentary Control Room) and Palestinian journalist Salameh use their story—one that, despite some successes since the directors visited in 2003, continues today in other small villages—as an example of what can be achieved with nonviolence and solidarity. Morrar, who has continued as a community organizer, even welcomed hundreds of Israelis who came to protest their own government, eventually building a coalition powerful enough to sway any nation.
Also this week: Vision: From The Life Of Hildegard Von Bingen comes to Pleasant Street Theater in Northampton—a biography of the 12th-century Benedictine nun Hildegard von Bingen, an iconoclast for the ages. A composer and playwright as well as a poet and pioneer of herbal medicine, von Bingen was also a mystic whose insistence on independence for nuns made waves in a patriarchal church. Director Margarethe von Trotta teams again with long-time collaborator Barbara Sukowa (as von Bingen) to bring a medieval feminist vibrantly to life.
Jack Brown can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.