30 for 30 sports documentary box set

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I know what you’re thinking. DVDs and Blu-ray are so passe. It’s been years since you (me too) actually watched something off of physical media, you just stream it! Why would you give someone a gift that you wouldn’t use yourself. Well, there are a few reasons. First of all, in the years that you’ve been exclusively streaming your entertainment onto your television (or maybe you just go straight to your laptop) you’ve conditioned yourself to accept a relatively low quality image. Your screen is capable of producing a much nicer picture than the one that is normally produced by streaming. And those blips, where you have to deal with a spinning circle for a few seconds while the buffering catches up, they’re not so bad, right? But they are pretty jarring. They break the spell when you’re watching something immersive. Plus, it’s no fun giving a holiday gift to someone if they can’t tear the wrapping paper off on Christmas Morning/A Hanukkah Evening/Kwanzaa Afternoon/Festivus Midnight.

This box set (ESPN Films 30 for 30: Film Favorites Collection) of twelve of the best films from ESPN’s 30 for 30 documentary series is a perfect gift for the sports fan in your life. It will look great on her shelf of prized DVDs, Blu-rays, and (gasp) VHS tapes. Plus, unlike many sports documentaries, these are compelling viewing even for non-sports fans. The 30 for 30 documentary series is the brainchild of columnist and media mogul, Bill Simmons. Using his power within ESPN, his celebrity, and (I’m guessing) his particular talents for mildly harassing people until they do what he wants them to do, Simmons corralled well known filmmakers into creating and directing documentaries about sports topics they feel passionate about. The resulting films have been a wide-ranging and interesting mix. Involving people from outside the mainstream sports media world has meant some very unusual choices of subject and style.

This box set of “favorites” from among the series includes twelve documentaries: The Announcement, The Best That Never Was, Catching Hell, The Fab Five, The Marinovich Project, Once Brothers, The Real Rocky, The Two Escobars, The U, Unguarded, June 17, 1994 and Winning Time: Reggie Miller vs The New York Knicks. I haven’t seen all the movies in the series, not even all twelve included in this set, but it does include three that are my three favorites. I’ll give you just a taste of each of the three that I can recommend from personal experience.

Once Brothers

The brothers in question are basketball players Vlade Divac and Drazen Petrovic. They grew up in Yugoslavia and came of age playing together for their country’s national team. When their country began to split violently in ethnic conflict, their relationship splintered as well. Petrovic sadly died in a car accident before time and the benefit of hindsight could bring them back together. The film follows Divac on a journey back through what is now Serbia and Croatia to trace the history of his relationship with Petrovic. It’s directed by Michael Tolajian who is not a well known filmmaker, but someone who had worked within ESPN, and clearly had a passion and background in the subject matter. His influence makes the film very straightforward. He lets the story and its characters shine.

The Two Escobars

If you were a young soccer fan living in the United States in 1994, like I was, then the United States’ hosting the World Cup was just about the best thing ever. The fact that the U.S. team surprised the world and actually advanced out of the group stage and into the knockout round was just icing on the cake. Our team’s only victory during the group stage was a 2-1 win over Colombia. This win would turn sour in retrospect after a Colombian defender who mistakenly kicked the ball into his own net, Andres Escobar, was murdered in Colombia just a week after their team was eliminated from the World Cup. I remember hearing about that as a kid, feeling sad and also thinking how crazy that was that someone could be killed over soccer. What I didn’t know, was anything about Andres Escobar. I didn’t know that he was seen as the great hope of Colombia, as a pure athletic antidote to the reign of Colombian drug lords, chief among them, Pablo Escobar (the other eponymous Escobar.) This movie tells the story of a country in crisis through the rise and fall of Andres Escobar. It’s not to be missed.

June 17, 1994

Picking up right where we left off, in 1994, this is my favorite of all the 30 for 30 films I’ve seen. Directed by the self-proclaimed “mad scientist” of documentaries, Brett Morgan, it’s a tour de force of filmmaking. Unlike most documentaries, there are no interviews, no voice overs, and no captions to speak of. It’s simply 51 minutes of footage from a single day in 1994, spliced together expertly. What makes it so compelling? Well, let’s just see what happened on that day: the opening of the 1994 World Cup, the New York Rangers celebrating their first Stanley Cup win since 1940, the NBA finals, Arnold Palmer’s last round of golf at the U.S. Open, and a little low-speed chase on an L.A. highway with O.J. Simpson in the back seat of a white bronco.

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