Political Film Society - Newsletter #245 -January 25, 2006

January 25, 2006


Glory RoadGlory Road, directed by James Gartner, is well timed both for the holiday recognizing Martin Luther King, Jr., and the beginning of college basketball season. The movie is based on the 1979 book (by Robert A. Heinlein) and true story of a college basketball team from West Texas College (now the University of Texas at El Paso) that rose from obscurity to achieve an upset victory as the winner of the National Collegiate Athletic Association basketball competition for 1966, a precedent that perhaps weighed heavily on the later desegregation of a high school in Alexandria, Virginia, as depicted in Remember the Titans, which Political Film Society members voted best film on human rights of 2000. When the feel-good movie begins, Don Haskins (played by Josh Lucas) is coaching a girls basketball team at a high school in Fort Worth. A talent scout picks him to coach at West Texas, which has never had a winning basketball team at a college where football is the top sport. After arrival at the college (actually in 1961, but 1965 in the film), Haskins talks his way into more funds for scholarships to attract new players. He then recruits African Americans in the Bronx, Detroit, Gary (Indiana), Houston, and elsewhere, some of whom he spots while they are playing basketball on the street rather than in a high school. Previously, no coach ever fielded a team with more than one Black basketball player in the opening lineup for a home team; two maximum were used on the road, and three only when a team had fallen behind in the score. Haskins, however, dares to start with three, and soon he is coaching an undefeated team that beats fourth-ranked Iowa and goes on to defeat the top-ranked University of Kentucky in the national championships with an unprecedented starting lineup of five African Americans. The film focuses on the personalities of several players as well as the coach and ends with titles indicating their careers afterward, including a National Basketball League star, others who became college coaches and teachers, and Haskins's selection for the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1997. Adolf Rupp (played by Jon Voight) gets recognition as the Kentucky coach who suffers an ignominious defeat to West Texas in the final playoffs of 1966 but nevertheless retires as the second winningest college coach in history; he is succeeded by an African American coach. However, the most important story is how Hoskins inspired and trained his team, and how the African Americans on the team overcame discrimination, including a beating, having their motel rooms ransacked, and having debris thrown on them as they entered the basketball court for a game. Thanks in part to their courage, the color line disappeared in college and professional sports after 1966. Similar to Remember the Titans, the Political Film Society has nominated Glory Road as best film exposé and best film on human rights of 2006. MH

End of the SpearEnd of the Spear, directed by Jim Hanon, is a docudrama (based on his own 2005 documentary Beyond the Gates of Splendor) with spectacular cinematography (mostly of Panamá) and fascinating muscular actors (actually the Embera people of Panamá), though the dialog of the latter imputes a savagery that may not be authentic. The movie begins with a prologue in 1943, when a possibly genocidal battle rages between two native peoples in the upper Ecuadorian Amazon, the Waodani and the Yaomani. Dayumae (played by Christian Souza) is rescued from possible death by missionaries and lives among them until 1976, when Nate Saint (played by Chad Allen) and four colleagues (and a camera) decide to land a propeller-driven airplane on a sandbar along the river to become curiosities so that the Waodani will come near and thereby build friendship, but without realizing that they may be anthropologically or politically incorrect by engaging in cultural interference. The Waodani, nevertheless, are suspicious and massacre the five. When evidence of the massacre is verified, the missionaries find some of the bodies as well as camera footage that records the meeting. On seeing members of her family on the film, Dayumae decides to go to the jungle to bring the message of peace as well as Christianity to the Waodani. During the encounter, Mincayani (played by Louie Leonardo) accepts the opportunity to join the missionaries, though the rest do not want to be tamed, preferring to remain strong so that they can be ready for another Yaomani attack. However, polio strikes the native population, particularly the younger ones, and they are on the verge of death when the missionaries call for medicines and instructions on how to save their lives. Their example inspires the native people to give up their violent past. One missionary is six-year-old Steve (played by Chase Ellison), whose father Nate was slain by Mincayani. After the massacre, Steve returns to the United States for schooling and secures gainful employment. In 1994, however, one of the missionary women dies, so he (played by Chad Allen, who has been supplying voiceovers) flies back to Ecuador for the funeral. While there, he reacquaints himself with his life as a boy. Mincayani, guilty for having killed his father, then takes Steve to the spot where Nate was slain, hands Steve the other end of a spear, and begs to be impaled, as the custom among the Waodani is that sons avenge the death of their fathers. However, Steve is the son of a missionary, though the ending is not without a surprise. As credits roll, filmviewers are able to see film footage of actual persons portrayed in the film, which has been nominated by the Political Film Society as best film on peace of 2006. MH