Last summer I reviewed a sports documentary, Murderball, about a team of quadriplegics who play kick-ass rugby on custom-built wheelchairs. The movie is so good (later nominated for an Oscar), that the fact its main characters are paralyzed recedes into the background and one's attention is captured by the athletes and their stories. Murderball grossed $1,726,000 worldwide, ran for 13 weeks, and, at its peak, played on 97 screens. When you consider that such dreck as Are We There Yet? played on 2810 screens, grossed $97 million worldwide, well, mamas, don't let your babies grow up to be filmmakers.
This year the Box is reviewing The Heart of the Game, a movie about a girls' basketball team; specifically, about the Roosevelt High School Roughriders girls' basketball team. Roosevelt High is the largest high school in Seattle, its student body is a little more than 50 percent white, a little less than 50 percent African-American/
Hispanic/Native American. The movie was written and directed by Ward Serrill, a certified public accountant. Serrill filmed his movie over seven years. In an interview, he was asked why he kept on with it, and he said people kept giving him money. This is a situation many of us aspire to.
When I first started writing, I'd sit with story subject until a story unfolded. Might take an afternoon, more likely took many afternoons, more than a few have taken months. I'd hang with the person ("Let's get some breakfast." "Feel like a beer?") until the story became clear to me. Everybody has at least one good story. The trick is finding it. So, taking seven years to film a movie doesn't seem crazy to me...seems like a long time, but not crazy.
Happily, Serrill got his seven years' worth on the screen. The Roughriders coach is Bill Resler, a middle-aged, balding, gray-haired man with a face that shows every one of his days on earth. He is a lecturer in accounting at the University of Washington. Resler applied for and got the job as part-time girls' basketball coach at Roosevelt High. He has three daughters; one wanted to play basketball. Resler is a natural, great coach. One year, he tells his team they are a pack of wolves, another year they are a pride of lions, then a tropical storm. He tells the girls to, "Sink their teeth in" and "Draw blood"
Serrill said he knew he had a movie when Darnellia Russell, who transferred to Roosevelt in her freshman year, joined the team. Russell was determined to make it to the WNBA. She's the guts of the film. Her game, her problems with the coach, her problems with the team, her pregnancy, the fact that authorities would not allow her to play after the birth of her daughter, the court fights, and the Roughriders' march to a Class 4A state championship must have had Serrill shaking his head, muttering, "I've hit the mother lode."
So, I write a review and now comes the part where I find out where the movie is playing, in case you're interested in seeing it. The movie has been reviewed by everybody. Reviewed on the Ebert & Roeper TV show (enthusiastic two thumbs up), in the Village Voice, New York Daily News, Rolling Stone, New York Post, USA Today, Philadelphia Daily News, Chicago Tribune, Variety, Washington Post, San Francisco Chronicle, Chicago Sun-Times, New York Times, Boston Globe, and many more. Reviews ranged from "good" to "exhilarating triumph." Most were on the "exhilarating triumph" side. I couldn't find a bad review.
My Internet homepage has a tab that says, "My Movies." You click on the tab and the movie page loads and shows you what's playing around town, where it's playing, and when. As of Tuesday, The Heart of the Game is not playing in San Diego. It's not playing in El Cajon, Chula Vista, Poway, Santee, La Jolla, or San Marcos. It's not playing in Oceanside, Vista, Temecula, or Escondido, either. I checked San Juan Capistrano, Irvine, Huntington Beach, Long Beach, and Anaheim. Nothing. I know it's playing out of town because that's where I saw it. Turns out, it's playing in one theater in Los Angeles and one theater in San Francisco and two theaters in Seattle, where it was filmed.
The Heart of the Game was released on June 9. The opening-weekend gross was $66,000. Nationwide release was set for June 14. As far as I can tell, as of Monday, June 19, the film was showing in four theaters in the United States. That's depressing. It's depressing to click through all those above-named cities, read the playbill of at least 100 theaters, and see the same dozen films over and over and over again.
Maybe this is premeditated. Maybe Miramax, the distributor, is doing a word-of-mouth campaign, betting the film will find its audience over time. Maybe it will blanket the nation next week. I hope so. It's a great movie.