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Staff & contributors
Undefeated won an Oscar but since it’s a documentary, few sadly paid attention to it. It tells the story of a football team in a poor area in Tennessee. Kids without a bright future, until the new coach arrives. Yes, that sounds like a very old, cliché tale. But keep in mind it is a documentary, and the story it tells is powerful, gripping, and any familiarity quickly becomes irrelevant. Even if you have no interest in American football, or in sports in general, you will love it and more than likely find yourself reaching for the Kleenex at least a few times before the credits roll.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Bill Courtney, Chavis Daniels, Montrail 'Money' Brown, Montrail 'Money' Brown, O.C. Brown

Director: Daniel Lindsay, T. J. Martin

Rating: PG-13

A wacky viral story — the kind that gets played for laughs at the end of news broadcasts — gets uncommonly deep consideration in this documentary gem. That’s not to say that Finders Keepers ignores the surreal comedy of the situation that John Wood and Shannon Whisnant, two star-crossed North Carolina men, found themselves in in 2007: battling over the custody rights of John’s mummified amputated leg. The humor in this bizarre tale and all the myriad eccentricities of its real-life characters is never left untapped, but to simply focus on that would add nothing new to the way the story had been told thus far. 

Unlike the many clips from news segments and reality TV that we see in the film, Finders Keepers instead looks beyond the low-hanging fruit and finds deep pathos simmering under the surface of this wacky tale. What emerges is a complex, often tragic, and very American picture of the way traumas shape our lives, the addictive pull of drugs and attention, and fate’s habit of twisting nightmares into blessings and vice versa. It’s the kind of film that makes you wonder how many other unexpectedly poignant stories have been short-changed by our impulse to be flippant.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: John Wood, Shannon Whisnant

Director: Bryan Carberry, J. Clay Tweel

Rating: R

A portrait of an Alabama high school wrestling team springboards from a sports documentary into an encompassing exploration of the American working class and institutional racism. The film operates on both levels as it zooms in on the lives of four students and their friendly yet overbearing coach. From the opening moments, Coach Sribner makes it clear that the State Championship is about much more than sport. A failing and underfunded school system all but ensures that a sports scholarship is one of the few chances for these youth to have access to higher education and a path out of poverty. 

This is further exacerbated by the racial dynamics at play, as we watch these mostly Black youth experience casual racism as well as institutional harassment from the police. Even their well-meaning coach is not exempt, he at once can acknowledge his white privilege but is not above baselessly accusing one of the boys of stealing his sunglasses. Herbert’s up close and personal style is immersive and passionate and builds to an exciting sports film climax while maintaining a piercing awareness of the severe economic realities that hollow out any victory on the mat.

Genre: Documentary, Drama

Director: Suzannah Herbert