Commentary

ESPN Films: 'Catching Hell'

Updated: November 4, 2011, 4:05 PM ET
By Staff | ESPN.com

FILM SUMMARY

In the eighth inning of Game 6 of the 2003 National League Championship Series at Wrigley Field, Cubs fans had every reason to believe they would finally host a World Series for the first time since 1945. With their ace pitcher going strong, the Cubs led the Marlins 3-0, only five outs short of a pennant. And then the sky fell. Or a foul ball fell from the sky, tearing the cosmic fabric, when a home team fan, Steve Bartman, reaching for a foul pop fly, tipped the ball away from the outstretched glove of leaping Cubs left fielder Moises Alou, who seemed certain to make a spectacular catch.

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As the TV cameras focused on the isolated fan, frozen in his seat and staring straight ahead as if in a trance, Cubs fans felt the familiar sense of doom and dread, one that quickly turned to anger as the Marlins then staged a lightning eight-run rally. Even though sure-handed shortstop Alex Gonzalez booted a routine inning-ending double-play ball and the Cubs still had a Game 7 left to try to win it and the mild-mannered Bartman made a sincere public apology, the fans focused their disappointment and rage on Bartman. He fulfilled the ancient need for a scapegoat to explain the inexplicable to Chicago -- why, on the threshold of victory, the door was once more slammed in its face, capping a near-century of losing and frustration.

In a shift from addressing social big-picture topics such as the Enron scandal, the fall of Eliot Spitzer and the detainment of innocent political prisoners, Oscar-winning documentarian Alex Gibney explores the unsettling phenomena of scapegoating in sports with intimate looks at Bartman and Red Sox first baseman Bill Buckner. The parallel stories are told in a suspense-filled style, made particularly chilling for Bartman. With never-before-seen footage of Game 6 from inside the stands of Wrigley Field, we see, step by step, how the Friendly Confines turned into a dark place as Cubs fans tried to hold Bartman to account for their collective nightmare.

MEET THE DIRECTOR

Alex Gibney directed the 2008 Oscar-winning film "Taxi to the Dark Side" and the 2006 Oscar-nominated film "Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room." Other credits as director include Magnolia Pictures releases "Casino Jack and the United States of Money" and "Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson." His credits as producer include the Oscar-nominated "No End in Sight" (executive producer), "Who Killed the Electric Car?" (consulting producer) and "Herbie Hancock: Possibilities" (producer).

Gibney's other music films include "Jimi Hendrix and the Blues" (director) and "Martin Scorsese Presents 'The Blues'" (producer), an eight-film documentary series (and accompanying book and multiple-CD release) on the blues, including films by Scorsese, Wim Wenders, Mike Figgis, Clint Eastwood and Antoine Fuqua.

In 2010-11, Gibney released four films as director: "My Trip to Al-Qaeda," based on the one-man play by Lawrence Wright, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of "The Looming Tower;" "Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer;" a segment on sumo wrestling in the omnibus film "Freakonomics;" and "Magic Trip," a time travel immersion experience about the famous 1964 bus trip taken by Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters.

In addition to the Oscar, Gibney has received numerous other awards, including a Grammy, multiple Emmys, the Peabody Award and the DuPont-Columbia Award for Broadcast Journalism.

Gibney recently finished a film for ESPN's 30 for 30 series, "Catching Hell," which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival, and is at work on a documentary feature for Universal on WikiLeaks.