Curing Cancer?

Ceaselessly stumping for RallyMe, I’ve been lately stuck with The Look on the faces of many pitchees. The Look is actually a series of increasingly frantic tics. First: glassy eyes. Next: check smartphone, hoping for urgent call or text. Third: hurl desperate glances over my shoulder like so many life preservers. Fourth: some derivation of Gotta go, dude. I try not to take this personally, but I keep wondering where I’m losing them.

I got my answer recently when pitching the many wonderful benefits of a crowdfunding-for-athletes platform to an independent filmmaker I met at the MountainFilm Festival in Telluride, Colorado.

That’s all-good, he said, if that’s what you’re into.

If that’s what I’m into? I repeated, marveling at the way he made it sound somehow base, dirty.

Yeah, but really, who cares if people raise money to play sports or not? I mean, it’s not like you’re curing cancer, dude.

I was so dumbstruck that I laughed. To me it’s a given that participation in sports is good, and that the more people into sports, the better. And if relatively small amounts of money are keeping people, especially young ones, from playing sports, and we can change that by harnessing the power of the crowd, well, how could that be anything by great?

Cool Filmmaker Dude wasn’t buying it. I wish I could say that I let his cynicism roll off, but I didn’t. It stuck to me.

The voice of a Doubting Thomas like Cool Filmmaker Dude can really echo in your head.

I’m in Telluride to present a documentary called Ready To Fly, about, yep, sports. And not mainstream sports, it’s about ski jumping. Women’s ski jumping. And all I can hear is cool filmmaker dude: Yeah, but really, who cares?

Well, I do, I tell myself. I care. And the people in our company care, and that's something, right? So we’re not curing cancer, but isn't stoking the soul worth something? According to CFD, it's not.

Unfortunately, CFD’s contention is not unique. The truth about sports films is that the makers of them are generally deemed to be somehow less skilled than the makers of hard-hitting documentary films. Our editor calls them the Last Dead Baby In The War Zone films. These are films that are often tough to watch, but are really good for you. They are Should-Sees, no Must-Sees. Sports films generally end happily, and so they are seen as less good for you, less worthy of consideration than, let’s say a film about the tsunami in Japan. That’s just the way it is, I tell myself. In the film world, documentaries take second-class status to the higher budget feature films. And within the documentary genre, sports films are second-class citizens (at best).

I' musing over this as I'm standing in line for a documentary about, yep, sports, called Right To Play. It’s about a gold medalist speed skater who dedicates his life to bringing sports to children in the poorest, most dangerous countries in the world. I'm so into this film that my eyes are moist before the opening titles end. A little while into the film, there’s this part in which the central character, Johann Olav Koss, is mocked by the Norwegian newspapers: Johann Olav Koss is Bringing Soccer Balls to Starving Children, What An Idiot. My laugh was all together too loud for the theater’s well-heeled crowd.

CFD didn’t go so far as to call me an idiot, but the thought was hanging in the air like a noxious odor.

In Right To Play, Koss was proved to be anything but an idiot. In my opinion he was a genius and a hero. No, his soccer balls didn’t put food in the bellies of kids, but he fed their soul by bringing them sports.

After the film, I spoke to director Frank Marshall, who despite his incredible Hollywood pedigree (he’s produced a dozen Speilberg films including Poltergeist, the Indiana Jones films, and the Bourne series), agreed that sports films, even his, get short shrift. The basic problem is that the people who control the purse strings (which means the money to get the film made, and then marketed) don’t believe in sports films. Especially not documentary sports films.

Well, we believe in them and I know a lot of regular Joes do too. Which is why we’re adding sports films to the mix of funding categories on RallyMe. Sports films and sports books too (which I’ve also written and received much the same attitude from Cool Publisher Dudes). While we may not ever convince CFD that sports films are worthy of real consideration, we can help more get made. And that, in my opinion is good for the world; you don’t have to cure cancer to feed the soul.