Medora, Davy Rothbart and Andrew Cohn’s moving new documentary, is much more than a year in the life of a floundering sports team—it’s also a portrait of a once-prosperous, now shrinking small town where many live close to the poverty line.
Over the course of one season, the boys on the Medora Hornets high school basketball team try to shift a decades-long losing streak, while grappling with challenges of their own.
Rusty Rogers, the team’s center, dropped out of school and got a job after his mother’s drinking made it impossible for her to care for him. Back in school and living with friends while she is in rehab, he is still afraid she will relapse.
Dylan McSoley, guard, has never met his father and dreams of being a preacher. “God is your Father, and I know that he won’t leave. And that he’ll always be there for me,” he says.
And Robby Armstrong, power forward, wants to be the first member of his family to go to college but struggles with a learning disability.
The Hornets also bear the burden of being one of the few bright spots left in a town that is, as one resident flatly puts it, “closed.” People used to work at either the plastics plant or the brick factory—now Medora has neither, and the high school is battling consolidation.
The boys and their families are remarkably candid about their hopes and fears, and Rothbart and Cohn’s sensitive handling of their stories makes Medora a powerful testament to one little town’s determination to survive.
Warmly received at its world premiere at the SXSW Film Festival in March, the film will open in theaters in New York and Los Angeles on November 8, and will also be available on VOD and iTunes from November 12.
CJR spoke to co-directors Rothbart and Cohn about their work on Medora.
Why a small town in Indiana? Why Medora?
Davy Rothbart: We read this article in The New York Times a few years ago by a guy named John Branch about the town of Medora and its team that never wins. And the challenges that Medora was facing as a town were very familiar to us, because Andrew and I are from Michigan…Ann Arbor is a college town, but you don’t have to drive that far outside Ann Arbor to find towns like Medora. We’re basketball nuts, we’re documentary film junkies, and it just seemed like the story we were born to tell.
Was it the idea of ‘the one team that never won’ that got your attention?
DR: Yeah, I think so. Because most sports documentaries are about a team trying to win a championship, or something, and here was a team just trying to win a single game. And so it felt like every game would have that intense drama and emotion of a championship game, because this could be the one game they could win.
Andrew Cohn: When we got to the town…it just seemed like a really magical place. My first instinct, I remember talking to Davy, was ‘How does this place exist?’ There’s a bank, a bar, a school, a mill, and liquor store, and yet people still live in this town. The trend has been people leaving to go to these larger towns. And so Davy and I wanted to explore what keeps these people here: the identity, the sense of camaraderie.
How did you choose the particular boys on the team to follow?
DR: Every kid on the team had a pretty fascinating story. There were some that didn’t even make it into the movie but were equally fascinating. We just spent time with everyone on the team. For a few of the kids, it had to do with access. These were kids who were very open with us—some more than others, and some more immediately than others—but they allowed us into their homes and their families were very open.