Small town Indiana basketball and life

“Medora” about underdog team and town
Apr. 05, 2013 @ 05:22 PM

When you look at the impact of a sport in a small town, a game is never just a game.

“Medora,” the documentary about the Medora High School basketball team in the small, poverty-stricken Indiana town, drew mid-screening applause Friday at the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival. The audience applauded watching games not because it was about scoring points, but about wanting these teenage boys to succeed.

Filmmakers Andrew Cohn and Davy Rothbart answered questions after the screening at the Durham Convention Center. Executive producers include Steve Buscemi and Stanley Tucci. Cohn and Rothbart are both from Michigan, and Cohn’s mom came from a small Indiana town even smaller than Medora, with a population in the hundreds.

After the filmmakers read a New York Times story about Medora, they drove down the next day and lived there for seven months as they filmed the kids’ lives on and off the court. Medora High faced basketball teams at consolidated high schools five times their size, and it showed in a 0-22 losing season. Most sports documentaries are about the drive to the championship, Rothbart said. This was about the drive to win just one game. In the 2011-12 season the team actually won two.

The film shows Medora, Ind., after the plastic factory and brick plant closed and jobs became scarce. Yet some people still live there and the small high school remains, with just 72 students. The school is a point of pride for the community. Cohn and Rothbart shot more than 600 hours of footage and could have made 10 separate films, they said, yet edited it down to one 80-minute film showing the team and focusing on a few of the players.

Parents are the working poor. One player’s mother is a recovering alcoholic, and he lives for a time with his teammate’s family. Another player has grown up never meeting his father. Another gets in trouble. The school and town are small enough that students all hang out together, and the basketball team means a lot to them, win or lose. The boys consider their futures after high school. Audiences see them struggle, see them laugh, see them party and see them cry.

Rothbart said there is value in small towns, and they hope that’s what “Medora” conveys. The former players saw the film a few weeks ago. “We think we did them justice, and they loved it,” Rothbart said.

One players, Rusty, who has since graduated, had planned to attend Full Frame but couldn’t get off work from his factory job.

Cohn said the sense of community in Medora is incredible. “In a lot of ways, small town America is not just a place,” he said.

For information about “Medora,” visit Full Frame continues through Sunday.