Daniel Lindsay and T.J. Martin-Like The Film’s Subjects, Undefeated Directors Defy Odds and Get An Oscar Nom
by Brad Balfour
I was glad to have interviewed doc directors Daniel Lindsay and T.J. Martin – whose film Undefeated cleared nearly all the award hurdles and got into that rarefied place of being a Best Documentary Feature nominee – before viewing this year’s Super Bowl. Talking with them made me appreciate the New York Giants’ win even more than expected because I had a fresh understanding of all the barriers to success a player overcomes to get to such big leagues.
This film documents one almost-championship season of a really bottom-the-barrel high school football team from wrong-side-of-the-tracks, inner-city West Memphis, Tennessee.
The severely underfunded, underprivileged Manassas Tigers – they had been hired out as a practice team for more successful, affluent schools – reverse their fortunes thanks to a relatively new coach, Bill Courtney, who, in 2004, came on board and applied what he learned as a former player and salesman to transform wild kids into a team.
The team – and particularly three spotlighted members – goes through trials and tribulations as they break their 110 year losing streak and head to the playoffs.
Undefeated tells of young men who dare to dream dreams that might surprisingly come true. Just like these two relative newcomers who, in getting this Oscar nom, now have real insight into what it takes to achieve the unexpected – as this exclusive interview demonstrates.
It took Steve James in his classic sports doc Hoop Dreams years to capture those dramatic moments. Who had the crystal ball that led you to capture these intense moments even though you had no idea they were going to happen?
Daniel Lindsay: Seth [Gordon], our producer. I’m kidding. I don’t think we ever could have imagined… we just captured lightning in a bottle. That’s all any great documentary is. There has to be an element of luck and have things work out in a certain way. I don’t think we could have predicted how it turned out. We always wanted to make a coming-of-age film, but we also wanted to make a sports film. Plus we wanted to address the education system and how it’s failing these young students. But we were able to speak a lot about these social issues by making this a stronger, intimate character piece that hopefully inspires conversation about class, education and race. We definitely went over a worn path with a story about high school football. Even if they had lost all their games, we would have filmed it anyway. It would just be a different film.
T.J. Martin: In Hoop Dreams, it was about catching up with the guys and spending huge moments of time with them. We embedded ourselves with them and spent every day of nine months with them. Not the same thing, but there’s an intensity in different ways. We got really lucky. But from the beginning, the approach never changed.
To read the rest of the interview, click here.