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Volume 23 No. 13
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Sports projects in spotlight at Tribeca

This year’s Tribeca Film Festival saw 15 sports films that tell the stories of everyone from competitive eaters to aspiring sumo wrestlers.
“The Good, The Bad, The Hungry” examines the rivalry in competitive eating between Takeru Kobayashi (left) and Joey Chestnut.
Photo: espn
“The Good, The Bad, The Hungry” examines the rivalry in competitive eating between Takeru Kobayashi (left) and Joey Chestnut.
Photo: espn
“The Good, The Bad, The Hungry” examines the rivalry in competitive eating between Takeru Kobayashi (left) and Joey Chestnut.
Photo: espn

ESPN’s “30 for 30” hit a major milestone this year, sharing some of the spotlight at the Tribeca Film Festival as the documentary series celebrated its 10th anniversary.

Tribeca, which brings the filmmaking community to New York City every spring, hosted 15 sports films this year with a mix of feature documentaries, shorts and one narrative film, as well as panel discussions. The festival ran from April 24 to May 5. 

For its part, this was the 11th year ESPN received top billing as a film-festival-within-a-film-festival, through the Tribeca/ESPN Sports Film Festival. This year ESPN’s event held the majority of Tribeca’s featured sports projects, with five documentaries and four shorts.

On day three of the festival, the Tribeca/ESPN gala premiered a new “30 for 30” documentary, “The Good, The Bad, The Hungry,” which will air on the network July 2. The project was a departure from the series’ typical fare, this time focusing on competitive eating.

Director Nicole Lucas Haimes takes the viewer on an interesting journey inside the landscape and tracks two of the sport’s biggest rivals who remain bitter enemies: current world eating champion Joey Chestnut and prior best-in-the-world Takeru Kobayashi, who is considered the man who turned competitive eating into a sport. Nearly 10 years have passed since the two men have stood on the stage together.

Felipe Lopez (left), the subject of “The Dominican Dream,” is joined on the red carpet by director Jonathan Hock.
Photo: espn
Felipe Lopez (left), the subject of “The Dominican Dream,” is joined on the red carpet by director Jonathan Hock.
Photo: espn
Felipe Lopez (left), the subject of “The Dominican Dream,” is joined on the red carpet by director Jonathan Hock.
Photo: espn

On the red carpet ahead of the film’s world premiere, Haimes said she was attracted by the oddity of the subject matter. She said “behind the appearance of people shoving food into their mouths, there’s actually a complex and beautiful and intense human story that needed to be told.”

The second of two “30 for 30” festival screenings was “The Dominican Dream,” directed by Jonathan Hock. The film centers on retired NBA player Felipe Lopez who emigrated to the U.S. from the Dominican Republic at the age of 13. At age 17, he appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated and was touted as being the next Michael Jordan. Hock points to a story full of heartbreak and failure but reveals that true success doesn’t necessarily come by playing pro ball. 

The Tribeca/ESPN Film Festival wrapped with a panel discussion celebrating the 10th anniversary of “30 for 30.” Moderator and journalist Chris Connelly interviewed the show’s co-creator Connor Schell and three celebrated documentary makers: Academy Award winner Ezra Edelman, Academy Award winner Alex Gibney and Emmy Award winner Marina Zenovich.

Of the series’ success, Schell said ESPN was very intentional from the beginning, approaching such luminaries as filmmakers Albert Maysles and Barbara Kopple to show that the network was serious about making the finest sports documentaries possible. When the show began, he said, it wanted to challenge conventions. “[Now] we don’t want to be the thing that someone wants to challenge.” 

Shahnaz Mahmud is a writer in New York.

Sports films at Tribeca



“At the Heart of Gold” - HBO documentary
In 2016, USA Gymnastics was rocked by the revelation that national team doctor Larry Nassar had been abusing young athletes for decades.

“Changing the Game” — Documentary
Transgender high school athletes from across the country compete at the top of their fields, while also challenging the boundaries and perceptions of fairness and discrimination.

“Charlie’s Records” — Documentary
In 1967, Rawlston Charles moved to the U.S. from Tobago with a vision to promote Calypso and Soca music and its artists to the world through his record store Charlie’s Calypso City and his music label, Charlie’s Records. Tina Charles, who plays for the WNBA Liberty, directed the film about her father. 

“The Dominican Dream” — ESPN documentary
In the early 1990s, the future of basketball belonged to a young Dominican immigrant named Felipe Lopez, whose story is the ultimate profile of the American dream.

“Maiden” — Sony Pictures Classics documentary 
Every three years, The Whitbread Round the World Race tested the mettle of the most seasoned seamen in a grueling global sailing showdown, but even the most accomplished yachtsmen in the world weren’t prepared for 24-year-old Tracy Edwards and her all-female crew.

“The Good, The Bad, The Hungry” — ESPN documentary
Two rivals address the years of animosity that defined their careers and their shared dream of achieving greatness on the world’s biggest stage: the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest.

“A Kid from Coney Island” - Documentary
From the streets of Coney Island to the NBA, the story of basketball star Stephon Marbury reveals that often life is about the journey, not the destination — and the unexpected places your dreams may take you. 

“Pearl” — Feature narrative 
Lea Pearl is set to compete in the final of the female bodybuilding championship, Miss Heaven, but her plans are upended when her ex-lover shows up with the six-year-old son she left behind. 

“What’s My Name: Muhammad Ali” — HBO Sports documentary
One of the most iconic figures in athletic history, Muhammad Ali’s incredible story from world champion boxer to inspiring social activist is explored through his own voice and never-before-seen archival material.

“A Woman’s Work: The NFL Cheerleader Problem” — Documentary
Football and feminism collide in this project that follows former NFL cheerleaders battling the league to end wage theft and illegal employment practices that have persisted for 50 years. 


“The Boxers of Brule” 
Shaionna, a young Lakota woman, creates a girls boxing team to combat the youth suicide epidemic threatening the Lower Brule Sioux Reservation, despite the odds being stacked against her and the demons she must face herself. An ESPN release.

“Little Miss Sumo”
Female sumo wrestling champion Hiyori confronts obstacles both inside and outside the ring in an attempt to change Japan’s national sport forever. An ESPN release. 

“Mack Wrestles”
The film takes the audience behind the scenes as Mack Beggs struggles against the outside forces that stigmatize transgender athletes. An ESPN release.

“Who Says I Can’t” 
Rob Mendez was born without arms or legs, but after more than a decade of acting as an assistant football coach, he finally got the opportunity he’d always wanted: the head coaching position at a major high school. 


“Ashe ’68”
Arthur Ashe emerged as an elite athlete who parlayed his fame as the first black man to win the U.S. Open tennis championship into a lifetime devoted to fighting injustice.