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It was the documentary of the struggle of a high school football team which found its way to the winners podium at last nights celebration of the 84th Academy Awards. The feature, directed by Daniel Lindsay and T.J. Martin, follows the Manassas Tigers of Memphis as the three main protagonists, three underprivileged student-athletes make an attempt to beat the odds and turn years of losses into a winning season.
Climbing the stage to accept the statue, Dan Lindsay joked “A year ago today we were sitting in our editing room, depressed thinking nobody was ever going to see this movie and a friend said, ‘don’t worry, next year you’ll be at the Oscars’ and we said, ‘you’re an idiot.’ So we’d like to take this opportunity to apologize to him and say you’re a lot smarter than we thought.”
His fellow winner T.J. Martin added “We would also like to acknowledge our fellow nominees. They have inspired us in so many ways.” After the acceptance speech, the Oscar press corps received the elated winner backstage.
Q. How do you feel right now after, you know, with the Oscar on your hand is like?
A. (T.J. Martin) Surreal? I need someone to come up and pinch me. Thank you, Rich, this is really happening. Oh, my God.
A. (Daniel Lindsay) It was funny. I said to we went out into the lobby area right before the awards and had some champagne and just gave each other a hug and said, look, win or lose, this is incredible, I don’t know what happened, but and we just said, you know
A. (T.J. Martin) Win or lose, just getting nominated is, like, a phenomenal achievement for us, and again, like, so much of this, we can’t we could not thank the community of North Memphis enough for, like, we should not be the ones standing up here. They are the ones who actually their trust in us in telling their story is what enabled our success.
A. (Daniel Lindsay) Someone else is being way funnier than TJ.
Q. One of the things I’ve been saying is, this is one of the few categories that people get behind, get excited about. Can you talk about why documentary is such an invigorating category this year?
A. (Daniel Lindsay) First of all, I think there’s an unbelievable grouping in films. I mean, ‘Paradise Lost’, they freed three people out of jail, and that’s incredible. ‘Hell And Back Again’ is one of the most cinematic documentaries I’ve ever seen in my entire life. ‘Pina’ is pushing boundaries. Pushing boundaries is beautiful. ‘If A Tree Falls’ is intelligent and inspiring. Documentaries, I think it’s partly because of the technology, there’s a
A. (T.J. Martin) It democratizes it.
A. (Daniel Lindsay) Yes. There is a way to make films that you couldn’t make before and you can tell stories that you couldn’t tell before, and I think people just, you know, look, I don’t know if, like, people are clamoring for something genuine. And I don’t know, I think we’re sick of manufactured stuff, but I’m not going to make a statement.
Q. Congratulations, guys. I watched the film the other day and I loved it, but I wanted to ask you, there’s been a lot of questions about the whole issue of race with this, and the fact that once again we have the white coach and the black players, and I was just wondering for you, when you set out to make it, was it at all an issue, and I noticed since Mr. Combs is in back of the room, if he wanted to come up and address that issue as well with you?
A. (T.J. Martin) I’ll address it happily. When we first discovered the community of North Memphis, that’s what really, when we felt the absolute need to tell the story because I think between the three of us we’ve done a fair amount of traveling within the U.S., and I don’t think we’ve ever seen poverty on that level. So, once we got there and recognized that race and class was not an issue for both the volunteer coaches and the players, they didn’t see each other, the players didn’t see Coach Bill as their white coach and Coach Bill did not see his players as his, you know, African American players. So, for us, it was not our duty to bring in that element of it, if it wasn’t a reality for their, you know, for their day to day.
With that said, there was no way we were going to shy away from the socio economic, kind of, dynamics of the stage of the film and of the community, and at the end of the day I actually really appreciate that question because the whole point of it is what really inspires the conversation about race and class. It’s just the beginning of the conversation. We’d never say that we’re an authority figure on that, but we’d say it’s time to actually talk about it.
Q. Your film was situated in North Memphis, and West Memphis Three, which is ‘Paradise Lost 3’, was in West Memphis. Was there any coincidence that you guys might have crossed each other’s paths as documentarians and also both films look at issues of race and poverty from a completely different perspective, but was there any kind of bond or something when you were in North Memphis at the same time?
A. (Daniel Lindsay) I think the fact that you asked that question kind of relates to the question before, the fact that those aren’t just issues, class, poverty, it doesn’t have to do with anything with race, they’re two stories that deal with two different races, but it’s class and what that means to our society. But no, we never we met Joe for the first time in the nominees lunch and he’s been a hero of ours forever. I think I’ve seen ‘Brother’s Keeper’ 40 times. But we didn’t even know they were doing that film while we were there, which is kind of crazy. But no, I guess Memphis breeds good stories, I don’t know.
A. (T.J. Martin) We should add that we never set out to make a social issues based film. Our whole intention was to tell a wonderful human interest story, really a coming of age film, and that hopefully, once again, inspired a greater conversation and a greater dialog.
Image Courtesy of Richard Harbaugh / ©A.M.P.A.S. (Top Image)