Prof. Eugene Martin saw his documentary film The Anderson Monarchs earn an enthusiastic ovation at Sunday’s Thin Line Film Fest.
The University of North Texas radio, television and film faculty member earned more applause when he announced that the documentary will get commercial distribution.
The documentary follows two young, inner-city soccer players, Jlon, 11, and Kahlaa, 10, from 2008 to 2010. The girls, now 16 and 15, are emblems of raw talent and grace as their team struggles against limited resources to continue not just its winning record, but a trajectory of growth that is almost perfunctory among suburban select soccer.
Martin includes enough edge-of-the-seat game footage to propel the real story — Coach Walt and his girls. Walt is a well-heeled former attorney who gave up affluence (and lost his marriage and children) after following his quiet Catholic and social justice convictions to a battered playing field and three teams filled with some of the country’s most vulnerable children — urban black girls in poor Philadelphia. In a particularly affecting scene, Coach Walt ends practice after gunfire sounds nearby and the Philly PD investigates an adjacent basketball court. Coach Walt’s solid presence becomes a bulwark for talented, hardworking athletes who see too much, too soon in the streets Philly.
Anderson Monarchs succeeds largely from Martin’s apt storytelling, competent cinematography and two of the most sympathetic subjects in the festival. Title IX opened doors for girls to get a real crack at athletic competition — and the educational opportunities that can come with it. The Anderson Monarchs pulls back the curtain on dead end, lip service politicking in education reform. What we see are bright and talented children in danger of being stranded by impotent elected officials who are more interested in protecting their own interests than any real change for deserving constituents.
With the parents like these behind the Jlons and Kahlaas of American inner cities, and dogged volunteers like Coach Walt, the will of the next generation will find a way
The festival ends today with screenings at the Fine Arts Theatre at 114 N. Elm St.