Going to the Movies – Medora

Photo by PoPville flickr user ep_jhu

Going to the Movies is written by Mount Vernon Triangle resident Catherine Taegel.

Documentaries inherently capture the time period in which they occur – often invoking the past to make a point about the present. They are commentaries that walk a fine line between overly romanticizing the past and overly discounting the present. “Medora”, a film about a small Indiana town of the same name, delicately focuses on what the town was and what it is now. At the center of the film are the members of the high school varsity boys’ basketball team whose half-century long losing record defines more than just the team. Avoiding common documentary pitfalls (there was only one virtual info graph), “Medora” successfully strays from overly romanticizing the past and, luckily for us, stays present.

Inspired by a 2009 New York Times article, co-directors Davy Rothbart and Andrew Cohn started a Kickstarter campaign to raise money for the movie.  Exceeding its original goal of $18,000, the campaign closed with $65,606 pledged by 720 people. The co-directors dove into the small town community and honed in on the high school varsity boys’ basketball team – the Medora Hornets – whose 0-22 record from the previous year, and losing records all that way back to 1949, has seeped into the community psyche. Most of the kids growing up there have found that losing is normal, it’s standard, and there’s nothing really to live up to or work towards.

Continues after the jump.

With most of the high schools in the state consolidating into schools of 500 or more student, Medora’s single high school consistently resisted the consolidation and houses just 77 students. The varsity basketball team rounds out at about a dozen or so. Most of the young boys come from broken homes that include not just divorce but alcohol and domestic abuse. The film captures a few of the boys going “dumpster diving” for fun and in a small town where there’s not a lot to do – drugs and alcohol are a given. Faced with constant adversity, the basketball team helps these boys belong to something and one of them even notes that it keeps them off of the streets and out of trouble. Led by a fearless young head coach, the boys stay focused – showing up for practice and working hard in school in order to stay on the team. For the coaches who come from near and far, and all have second jobs, they see basketball as a conduit for helping these young boys finish high school and their determined to help them see it through. The coaches know just one win will help build the boys’ confidence and further their drive.

The film does invoke the past – highlighting Medora’s growth and prosperity by way of factories and plants. Just like many small towns all over the country, the factories and plants closed down and the city stalled. Jobs moved elsewhere and people struggled to make ends meet. Poverty struck Medora hard and the film showed how the town has become a place with boarded up windows and families with few options. It’s not an easy place for kids to grow up in, but a harder one for them to move out of. As I watched the film it validated what I already knew to be true – that this is America. This is what is going on in towns all over America. For the people who live it, the struggle is constant and the future is uncertain. I’m incredibly lucky and incredibly naïve, because I have no idea. This film is just a window into the real America.

Basketball is a state tradition and the team gives people something to rally around. Even with economic and state pressures, the community keeps existing and striving to be better. The stories are heartbreaking but real. The realities keep the film honest and sincere. I found myself cheering on the young guys as their hard work appears to pay off and holding my breath when it looks like its falling apart. No matter what though, these young boys keep playing. They keep showing up. They keep attempting to move forward with the ultimate goal of graduating from high school and even maybe leaving Medora. So, do the Medora Hornets ever win a game? Now does it really even matter?

One Comment

  • I haven’t seen this but keep meaning to. I grew up in Indiana – both poverty and basketball were prevalent in my childhood. I love my family but am grateful every day that I got out of there.

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