Famous film maker Sam Pollard (MLK / FBI) is a delightful storyteller. The guy won an Emmy Award (Best Picture Editing for Non-Fiction Programming) for the movie By the People: The Election of Barack Obama. He was also nominated for an Academy Award, along with Spike Lee, for 4 little girls. Now, he’s on top leagueAnd A powerful documentary highlighting the remarkable journey of Negro League baseball–from its triumphs to its challenges–through the first half of the twentieth century.
It’s a monumental achievement with a beautifully told story featuring previously unearthed archive footage and never-before-seen interviews with legendary players like Buck O’Neal and Satchel Paige. Their early careers created a path for Jackie Robinson and Hall-of-Famers Willie Mays and Hank Aaron, all of whom started in the Negro leagues.
Regarding the new project, Pollard immediately indicated that he thought people would be immediately surprised by the fact that there are black baseball players who have been playing on black baseball teams for over 40 years. Besides Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe Dimaggio, and Ted Williams, there were other lesser-known greats like Josh Gibson, Satchel Paige, and Cool Papa Bell.
The work also explores black baseball as “an economic and social pillar for black communities and a platform for some of the greatest athletes ever to play the game.” It also boldly examines the unintended consequences of the merger. Sam Pollard shares more with MovieWeb in this exclusive interview.
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The director’s sharp talents and past no doubt fuel this compelling story. Sam Pollard grew up in the 1960s. He was a big fan of baseball, mostly thanks to his father, whose favorite team was the St. Louis Cardinals. And remember how the team had a roster of great players, many of them black or Latino. “They were a team that got ball fans excited during that decade and would go on to win the World Series in 1964 and 1967,” Pollard noted, adding that he had learned about the Negro leagues at the time, but “only really knew about Josh Gibson and Satchel Paige.” Fast-forward to 2016 and a young man named Byron Motley, whose father, Bob Motley, was a referee, comes up to me and says, “We’d really like to put you on board as a director to work on a movie about the Negro leagues. I have interviews with my dad and I’ve interviewed former players.”
Thus began the entire fund-raising process for the project. It all rekindled his love of baseball, Pollard said. “Finally, we were able to introduce Questlove as Executive Producer, RadicalMedia and Magnolia Pictures on the project, and things are starting to happen in 2020.”
Filming began that year, and the doc wrapped last spring. “It was amazing,” Pollard said. “In a way, it was a whole moment for me — from this 14-year-old in the 60s who loved baseball to this 71-year-old in 2021 who said, ‘Oh, baseball, I forgot how good it was.’” “
Why score the league at home
Many things stand out league, But note entrepreneurial wizards like Cumberland Posey and Gus Greenlee, whose heated rivalry somehow gave birth to two of the best baseball teams to ever play the game. There’s also Eva Manley, activist/owner of the Newark Eagles and the only woman to be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. With executive producer Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson (Summer of the soul(and Tariq Trotter)descendingOnboard There is a lot of passion behind this endeavor.
“I would say this movie was an accomplishment of something,” Pollard noted. “I’ve been very fortunate because in the last four or five years I’ve been able to work on films and that’s helped me go back in time, relive it, and rejuvenate myself with an emotional perspective.”
Credit goes to the Doctor’s intrepid research team, especially archival producer Helen Russell, who has made several sports documentaries. She knew where many of the bodies were buried in connection with the neighborhood buffs. She was able to reach out to these men and women and find footage, headlines, and footage that would help us tell the story. Then we brought in a great story producer named Ruben Espanola who helped find people we could meet.”
On the Importance of the Negro Association
When asked about one of the distinct themes the document explores—the benefits of having Negro and African-American baseball players, Pollard quickly points out:
Anytime a person from the black community gets involved in a sport that used to be a majority white sport like basketball and baseball, it changes the whole rhythm and feel of the game. If you think of baseball in the 20’s and 30’s, it was basically a game built around the idea of someone like Babe Ruth coming to the plate. And if he gets a good pitch, he’ll hit a home run and go from base to base to base.
“Negro league players play a more rhythmic game,” Pollard continued. They run the bases and steal the bases. This is built into the game. Watch some Jackie Robison footage… It’s more emotional and funnier while playing the game, you know. This led to people like Ricky Henderson and Reggie Jackson. These players put the character into the game, not just their skills, but their presence. They put skill, magic, and energy into the game.”
Pollard’s film captures that energy and charm, and fulfills it, too. Magnolia Pictures will release league Exclusively in AMC Theaters July 7th, and will be available July 14th digitally.