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Monday, May 7, 2007
Updated: July 18, 1:30 PM ET
Media Blitz heads to Tribeca, Part 2

By Sam Alipour
Special to Page 2

Note: For Part 1 of this two-part Tribeca wrap-up, click here.

NEW YORK -- The final credits have rolled and the game is over, sports fans. The winner? You. Without further ado, here now is the remainder of the good, the strange and the sport that was the Tribeca/ESPN Sports Film Festival.

*** (three stars)

For director Barry Levinson, who had the guts to re-edit his classic baseball flick "The Natural," thereby demonstrating that a mere swivel of his hips could clear a midsized forest.

It's not so much that Levinson messed with a classic. Since the advent of DVD, directors from George Lucas ("Star Wars") to Steven Spielberg ("E.T.") have exorcised their cinematic demons by revisiting their masterworks and ironing out the wrinkles that have haunted them.

Media Blitz
But it's Levinson's decision to unveil his alterations at the Tribeca/ESPN Sports Film Festival that really demonstrates his guts. And for Levinson to attend such a screening, surrounded by an audience of serious-minded sports flick lovers who regard "The Natural" as gospel -- and any filmmaker who'd dare alter the film as a perp of the rankest order -- is something akin to Ron Artest attending Monday night's Bulls-Pistons game in Auburn Hills, handing out beers, wearing a T-shirt that reads "You missed me," and slapping every Pistons fan seated in his row.

This is why I caught up with Levinson for a chat just prior to the screening and not after it -- when Mr. Levinson would surely be on the first flight to Libya, where they like neither baseball nor extradition treaties.

Sam Alipour: Sir, I hope you're trained in the martial arts, because you're about to meet a lot of people who will be wondering, "Why'd you do it, Barry?" So, why'd you do it, Barry?

Barry Levinson: [Laughs] I'm sure I'll be hearing that a lot. But the new cut is more like fine-tuning. It's not a different movie. It's closer to the intention of the original, the finality of what was in my head. I wasn't able to accomplish what I wanted with the first act, before Hobbs finally reaches the major leagues. And for 20-something years, it's haunted me.

Why couldn't you get it done the first time around, in '84?

When we were cutting the film, we were under such pressure with the release date, it was impossible to get it done in time. I would've done it earlier, but we couldn't find the original footage. It was an archeological dig trying to find it. Then someone at Sony [Pictures Studio] found it -- in a shoe box, for all I know -- and I was presented with this opportunity.

What changes did you make? Rather than playing out in a linear fashion, what you'll see in the first act now is a broken man who's about to go to the majors. But first, he returns home to find his bat. And in going home, he recalls the memories of his youth: Iris [Glenn Close], the moments on the train, meeting Harriet Bird [Barbara Hershey], striking out The Whammer. So it's this fragmented look at how he ultimately lost his way.

Did the changes ultimately accomplish what you intended? I think so. It enhances Hobbs' character. You see that he's plagued by something dark in his past. You don't get that in the original. You know that he's a flawed, troubled man who's about to get one last shot. And you know, I added 20 minutes of new footage, but the movie is only eight minutes longer.

I hope those 20 minutes were worth the risk to your life. Have you gotten any feedback from ballplayers on the recut?

No, but I've heard from so many players over the years. The one that stuck with me is when I ran into Joe DiMaggio at Camden Yards the night Cal Ripken broke Lou Gehrig's record. I went over to say hello, and one of his people stepped in and said, "You can't bother Mr. DiMaggio." And Joe went: "No, it's OK. He's the guy who made 'The Natural.'" I got such a kick out of that, you know what I mean?

I do. But DiMaggio won't be at the screening to have your back. Good luck, Mr. Levinson.

*** (three stars)

To Mexican actor Diego Luna ("Y Tu Mama Tambien") for his directorial debut "Chavez," a celebration of his countryman, boxing legend Julio César Chávez.

Aided by testimonials from the sport's biggest names (including Mike Tyson and the doc's villain, Don King) and interviews with Chavez, his family and the people of Chavez's hometown of Culiacan, Mexico, Luna paints an empathetic portrait of one of Mexico's most beloved heroes. But the film's heart lies in the relationship between a father and son. Cameras followed a broken-down Chavez through "Adios, Phoenix," his final fight in 2005, when he passed the torch to his son, Julio Jr., who carries the family name -- and a 31-0-1 record. As the prodigal son set, another was born.

"I was sad to see how many people have taken so much from Julio, sad to shoot him fighting when he should have retired," Luna said at the film's premiere. "But I was really happy to see that he has a son that will give him joy. And to be a part of that moment, to show everyone that we should thank Julio for all of the happiness he gave Mexico, that makes me proud."

The film's one knock? Luna chose not to document Chavez's love life, divorce, and hard-partying ways, factors that contributed to his mid-90s career downturn.

"As a filmmaker, you have to make tough choices," Luna said. "And, personally, I hate when people write about my friends and who they date and how we party."

**** (four stars)

For the power of documentaries and "The Power of The Game."

Like the larger Tribeca Film Festival, the sports festival was an international affair, drawing films and fans from across the globe. So it was no surprise that two documentaries about soccer perhaps generated the most dialogue amongst moviegoers. The powerful "Sons of Sakhnin United," about Jews and Arabs coexisting on an Israeli soccer team, demonstrates that while it's the game's violent rivalries and hooligan fanfare that often grab headlines stateside, in most of the world, soccer is uniquely suited to serve as a conduit where language, culture and politics have failed.

Such is the power of the game, and the message of "The Power of The Game," a documentary from acclaimed director Michael Apted. To demonstrate soccer's impact on developing nations, Apted ("Nell" and the Bond flick "The World is Not Enough") tattooed his passport with ink from South Africa, Argentina and Senegal -- but not Iran, where soccer has become a symbol for women's rights. Though the country is featured in the film, Apted learned firsthand the difficulties facing Iran's soccer-loving ladies, who are barred from attending men's soccer matches.

"Naturally, we wanted to shoot the female players in Iran, but men aren't allowed to attend their matches, so that was frustrating," said Apted, who was forced to hire a local female director to implement his vision. "It's amazing to think how important the game is to the women of Iran and the rest of the world, and yet, still means so little in America."

This is the plight facing several scrawny men who represented Major League Soccer at the film's premiere -- and who walked the red carpet largely unperturbed by the reporters. "We've seen it all before," said one such man. "At least you ESPN guys know who we are."

Right. And you are …?

"Clint Mathis," he said. "New York Red Bulls."


**** (four stars)

For Lower Manhattan.

Tribeca is far more than a movie festival-turned-citywide sports bar. It's also a community development project. Born in 2002 and launched in large part to revitalize lower Manhattan as a response to the attacks of 9/11, the festival has created more than $325 million in local economic activity and has helped revitalize a spirit that had been lost.

That spirit abounded during the festival's final event, "Sports Saturday," an interactive outdoor affair held just a stone's throw from Ground Zero. Here, fans battled Shaun White in a snowboard simulation game, participated in tennis and soccer clinics, and received tutorials on how to toss footballs by Giants players like running back Ryan Grant and linebacker Chase Blackburn -- who, of course, have no business tossing footballs.

The Jets were represented by tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson, who willingly suffered indignities like signing autographs for kids in Giants jerseys, fielding unsolicited advice from disgruntled Jets fans ("It'd be nice to have a running game," offered one dad), and posing for photos with infants who possessed extremely slimy faces.

"I'm all wet with snot," Ferguson said, laughing. "But it's worth it.

"When tragedy strikes, it's important to form a community, to gather as a group to do whatever's needed to bring back the city's heart. This festival is helping with that. It's reminding us that we're all New Yorkers, first."

For two weeks this spring, we were, indeed.

Sam Alipour is based in Los Angeles. His Media Blitz column appears in ESPN The Magazine and regularly on Page 2. You can reach him at