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Kevin Connolly Hockey Doc Leads Tribeca/ESPN Sports Film Festival

REP SHEET: Kevin Connolly
Kevin Connolly

"Big Shot," which uncovers John Spano's fraudulent purchase of the New York Islanders, is one of nine sports-themed films to screen at the annual festival.

The Tribeca Film Festival has unveiled the lineup for the seventh annual Tribeca/ESPN Sports Film Festival.

This year’s incarnation will consist of nine films, including four titles from ESPN Films’ upcoming Nine for IX series, which celebrates the 40th anniversary of Title IX with nine documentary films about women in sports directed by female directors.

STORY: Tribeca 2013: Paul Rudd, Paul Giamatti and Julianne Moore Lead Spotlight Films

The lineup includes the world premiere of Big Shot, directed by Kevin Connolly, will serve as the gala premiere April 19. Connolly is returning to Tribeca having debuted his feature, Gardener of Eden, in 2007. In Big Shot, Connolly chronicles John Spano’s fraudulent purchase of the New York Islanders. In 1996, Spano bought the hockey team for a staggering $165 million but lacked the assets to complete the deal, marking one of the biggest frauds in professional sports.

“The sports film offerings at this year’s festival give sports fans and movie buffs tremendous opportunities to experience the many ways that sports intersect with our culture,” said Genna Terranova, director of programming for the Tribeca Film Festival.

Added Connelly: "I've always thought the expression ‘passion project’ was kind of a cliche until I started working on Big Shot for ESPN. Working side by side and spending time with guys that I literally grew up idolizing has been a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The whole experience, including having the film premiere in New York at the festival, has been a dream come true.”

Founded in 2006, the festival has become the premier showcase for independent sports films. This year's festival will run April 17-28, during the Tribeca fest, at locations around New York. 

STORY: Tribeca 2013: Russell Crowe, John Slattery and Naomi Watts Lead Competition Films

In addition to the film series, the Tribeca/ESPN Sports Film Festival will present Sports Day as part of the Tribeca Family Festival Street Fair. Sports Day, which will take place April 27, offers fans an opportunity to engage in a variety of free, sports-related games and activities. Some of New York’s most popular athletes, mascots and sports personalities will make guest appearances throughout the day.

The lineup also includes (with synopses provided by the festival):

McConkey, directed and written by Steve Winter, Murray Wais, Scott Gaffney, David Zieff and Rob Bruce. (USA) – world premiere, documentary. A biography of extreme ski trailblazer Shane McConkey, once described as “the most influential skier ever.” McConkey covers 40 years and countless high altitudes to track his transition from downhill racer to free-skiing marvel to pioneer of a hair-raising new discipline: ski BASE jumping.

Lenny Cooke, directed by Benny Safdie and Joshua Safdie. (USA) – world premiere, documentary. In 2001, Cooke was the most hyped high school basketball player in the country, ranked above future greats LeBron James, Amar’e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony. A decade later, Cooke has never played a minute in the NBA.

The Trials of Muhammad Ali, directed by Bill Siegel. (USA) – world premiere, documentary. Brash boxer Cassius Clay burst into the American consciousness in the early 1960s, just ahead of the Civil Rights movement. His transformation into the spiritually enlightened heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali is legendary, but this religious awakening also led to a bitter legal battle with the U.S. government after he refused to serve in the Vietnam War. This film reveals the perfect storm of race, religion and politics that shaped one of the most recognizable figures in sports history.  

The Motivation  , directed by Adam Bhala Lough. (USA) – world premiere, documentary. The film goes inside the lives and training regimes of eight of the world’s gutsiest professional skateboarders in their quest for the title of best street skateboarder in the world. (In English, Portuguese with subtitles.)

Pat XO, directed by Lisa Lax and Nancy Stern Winters. Produced by Robin Roberts. (USA) – world premiere, documentary. In August 2011, Pat Summitt, college basketball’s winningest coach, made the stunning announcement that she had early-onset Alzheimer's disease. Before and after resigning in April 2012, the legendary coach and her son, Tyler, have set out to beat this challenge as they had every other.

The Diplomat, directed by Senain Kheshgi and Jennifer Arnold. (USA) – world premiere, documentary. At the height of the Cold War, Katarina Witt became one of East Germany’s most famous athletes, winning six European titles, five world championships and back-to-back Olympic gold medals. Known as “the most beautiful face of socialism,” she earned unique benefits in East Germany but also constant surveillance from the Stasi, the notorious secret police force.

No Limits, directed by Alison Ellwood. (USA) – world premiere, documentary. Suffering from scoliosis as a teenager, Audrey Mestre found freedom in the ocean. Years later, she discovered another reason to love the water: the elusive, often raucous free diver Pipin Ferreras. As Mestre follows Ferreras’s almost spiritual quest to push his limits underwater, she moves from supporter to ardent free diver to world-class competitor. Then a challenge from a rival pushes the couple to the brink of what is possible, both above and below the surface.

Let Them Wear Towels, directed by Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg. (USA) – world premiere, documentary. During the 1977 World Series, Sports Illustrated reporter Melissa Ludtke was denied access to the players’ locker room. After a very public fight, the door was opened, but the debate about female journalists in the male sanctum of the clubhouse remained. Through interviews with pioneering female sports writers, Let Them Wear Towels captures the raw behavior, humorous retaliation, angry lawsuits and remarkable resolve that went into the struggle for equal access for women reporters.

Email: Tatiana.Siegel@THR.com, Twitter: @TatianaSiegel27