Medora – Day 7 of the 2013 Sarasota Film Festival

It’s a small town, and I don’t give a shit
It’s a small town, looks like this is it
The frost did fall on the pumpkin faces
I never made it to the far off places
It’s a small town and I don’t give a shit

When you think of Indiana basketball, a few legends come to mind. Coach John Wooden, the legendary coach of a collegiate basketball dynasty at UCLA was an Indiana boy. Coaching Bad Boy, Bobby Knight coached basketball at Indiana University for 29 years. His teams won the NCAA’s 3 times, and two other times were defeated in the semi-finals. Oscar Robertson, a member of the NBA Hall of Fame, grew up in a segregated housing project in Indianapolis. And of course, there’s hoops legend Larry Bird, from French Lick, Indiana, and Indiana State University in Terre Haute, Indiana.

Then there was the movie Hoosiers which starred Gene Hackman, Barbara Hershey, and Dennis Hopper. This 1986 film was the story of a coach with a checkered past, and a local town drunk, who together coached and trained a small town high school team, that was undermanned, under financed, and was thought to have no chance – to the Indiana state basketball Championship. Though considered a small film, this movie garnered two Oscar nominations and had a box office of 28 million. Not too bad for a film that opened in just 30 theaters nationwide on November 14, 1986.

Which brings us to the film Medora which was screened last night, April 11th, at the Sarasota Film Festival. There’s a second screening on the 13th. This is not the story of a drive to a championship. This is not Hoosiers. Rather, this is a sports documentary about a dying small town in rural Indiana. The town itself is home to about 500 people. The high school has just 76 students and was in dire straits facing closure which actually meant consolidation, or that the students would have to go to a larger high school in a bigger town.


The town was once a booming rural community but over the years had lost businesses, small factories had been shuttered, people who became unemployed had no choice but to leave. In America’s heartland, a small town faced extinction.

The Medora Hornets, the town’s high basketball team, had not won a single game in a few years.

Somehow, a New York Times writer, John Branch, got a hold of this story and published a by-line piece about it on November 27, 2009. This article came to the attention of documentary film-makers Davy Rothbart and Andrew Cohn. They traveled to Medora, along with Rachel Counce, their AD and Director of Photography, and set out to make a film about this town, this team, and about dwindling hopes.

They shot over 500 hours of footage and worked hard to assemble this film which has a run time of about 100 minutes. It’s not scintillating but it grabs you and commands your attention. The story of four or five of the team’s main players are not so much heartwarming as they are heartbreaking.

Derek Crossman

Derek Crossman

Robbie Armstrong

Robbie Armstrong

But make no mistake – this film is not only about the agony of defeat, and trust me, defeat is at the core of the film. Rather the film is about having the opportunity to experience just a small victory that mattered to no one, except nearly every one in a small place in southern Indiana hill country called Medora. The film is not pretty, has no memorable faces, or great hoops players. But what it does have is a lot of heart.

Rusty Rogers

Rusty Rogers

Dylan McSawley

Dylan McSawley

It is a sobering look about what life is like in small town USA. Not in the 40’s, or the 80’s but right now. It’s not about big dreams, but it is about dreams. And failures. One boy becomes the first member of his family to ever graduate from high school. Another boy drops out of school. One player aspires to attend a bible college. One young man is accepted to an agricultural and technical college, but he won’t go because his family needs him on their farm.

Rothbart, Counce, and Cohen worked on this film on their own limited budget.

l-r: Rothbart, Counce. and Cohn

l-r: Rothbart, Counce. and Cohn

They cut together a small trailer for the film, to give everyone a taste of the movie, and basically asked for financial aid for the post-production costs. And they got it from regular folks who may have sent in small amounts like $50, and they received some big time help from Hollywood luminaries like Steve Buscemi and Stanley Tucci.

Have a look at the trailer.

By the way, The Medora Hornets did win a game. In fact they won twice, then three times in the year that followed. This is not the stuff of headlines, but surely, we can agree that this is a feel good story. As for this film – well, clearly it is good news too. I’m glad I watched it.

The song Small Town, which I used to open this review, and plays over the film’s closing credits but not in the trailer, was written by Joel Boyles and Peter Berghoef and was performed by The Press Delete. You can easily find it on the internet.

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