'Opposite Field': DOC NYC Review
Jay Shapiro's documentary relates the story of the first African team in history to qualify for the Little League World Series
The Bad News Bears have nothing on the scrappy young Ugandan Little League baseball players showcased in Jay Shapiro's Opposite Field. Chronicling the improbable 2010-2011 journey of these youngsters, who became the first African team in history to qualify for the Little League World Series, this inspirational documentary, which recently received its world premiere at the DOC NYC Festival, should find particularly appreciative audiences in home video and cable television formats.
With the distinctly American sport introduced to the country in the 1990s by missionaries, it became popular enough to attract large numbers of youngsters eager to pick up bats and balls. Its progress was furthered by a rich American businessman who sponsored the building of fields and training facilities, and the young players eventually proved good enough to travel to Poland to compete in a qualifying tournament. Their most formidable opponent was the Little League team from Saudi Arabia, which boasted an unbeaten record.
The film, whose story was the subject of a 20/20 feature in 2012, details no shortage of bureaucratic challenges. Two of the Ugandan players were disqualified for being too young; a key game was lost on a technicality; the following year the team managed to qualify for the Little League World Series in Pennsylvania, only to be denied visas by the State Department because of some players' age discrepancies. It's not surprising, considering that many of the boys didn't even know their own birthdays.
The myriad twists and turns of the story are complemented by intimate portraits of the players and their dedicated coach George Mukhobe, who are seen relaxing off the field via such activities as karaoke nights.
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Director Shapiro, who also narrates, doesn't always display a firm grasp of his material, with the film's pacing proving jagged and the complicated narrative rendered with insufficient clarity. But its portrait of youngsters finding pleasure and redemption via the sport amidst often highly difficult personal circumstances is undeniably moving, with the story feeling inevitably destined for fictionalized treatment. Hollywood, are you listening?
Production: Gentile Entertainment Group
Director/editor: Jay Shapiro
Producers: Nick Goldfarb, Krista Saponara
Director of photography: Jason Krangel
Composer: Aleks de Carvalho
No rating, 74 min.