Directors: Mike Brett, Steve Jamison
Synopsis: This film follows American Samoa, FIFA’s lowest ranked side, during their qualifying campaign for Brazil’s 2014 World Cup.
In 2001, American Samoa lost 31-0 to Australia and have since been ridiculed as the worst football team in the world. Despite their glaring on field ineptitude, their determination and humility remains, characteristics you wouldn’t usually ascribe footballers. This wonderful underdog story, like many of the best sports documentaries, can be enjoyed by those who aren’t sports aficionados.
Director: Josh Greenbaum
Synopsis: Every year the best 7 year old golfers descend upon the world renowned Pinehurst golf course in Northern Carolina for the World Championships. Spoiler alert: there are plenty of tears.
It just seems wrong for children of such a young age to be involved in such a narrow-focused and highly competitive lifestyle, however it will make you day dream about where you could be now if your parents had been more pushy. You may not agree with the lifestyles of the families portrayed here, but this is certainly an entertaining and interesting window into that life.
Director: Stevan Riley
Synopsis: Feature documentary about the fearsome, all-conquering force of the West Indies’ cricket team of the 1970s and ’80s.
Fire In Babylon doesn’t merely chart the dominance of the West Indies’ team on the field, but displays the ingredients behind a cricket side that remained unbeaten in Test Match cricket for 15 years. With reliance on the historical and political contexts, Stevan Riley successfully captures the birth of a strong cultural identity. The velvety baritones of Michael Holding and a killer reggae soundtrack aren’t to be ignored either.
Directors: George Butler, Robert Fiore
Synopsis: Amateur and professional body builders prepare for the 1975 Mr Olympia and Mr Universe contests. Highlights include Arnold Schwarzenegger likening lifting weights to having an orgasm.
This amateurish, rough around the edges documentary charts the well-oiled narcissism of bodybuilders and those involved in the sport. You can’t help but respect these human machines, not merely for their displays of mind-blowing strength, but through exploring their roots and the years of dedication.
Director: Stacy Peralta
Synopsis: The Zephyr skateboard team introduced the sport to the masses and in doing so, influenced a generation. (NB. Don’t watch Lords of Dogtown, it pales in comparison.)
Director Stacy Peralta, one of the original members of the Z-Boys, much like The Class of 92, reunites the original crew 25 years later to hear their own words and stories. Through skating abandoned swimming pools these mavericks of the sport began to display unique acrobatic skills and were quickly picked up by corporate sponsors. These young men were propelled from the troubled area of Dogtown in Santa Monica to the world of celebrity skating, and Dogtown and Z-Boys expertly questions the repercussions a meteoric rise may lead to.
Directors: Benjamin Turner, Gabe Turner
Synopsis: A detailed account of the rise to sporting superstardom of six incredibly talented young Manchester United footballers (David Beckham, Nicky Butt, Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, Phil and Gary Neville).
The highlight of this fantastic film is certainly when six of the most successful Premier League footballers in history are sat reminiscing around the dinner table. They share their memories with such sincerity that you feel you’ve gained an invite and their candid responses belie the fact that a camera is thrust in their face.
The Class of 92 is excellently put together, with contextual contributions from Tony Blair, Danny Boyle and Mani from The Stone Roses showing its not just a film about the rise of a football team, but of a city and a generation.
Director: Bruce Brown
Synopsis: Two surfers travel around the world in search of the perfect wave. Not a bad premise for a film.
This documentary is gloriously without pretention, and this is a real surprise counting the synopsis reads like the most douchey thing since I told you about my gap year.
Just before the credits roll and as the sun sets Bruce Brown calmly comments “I hope you enjoyed my film”. A charming and uncomplicated end to a charming and uncomplicated film.
Directors: Henry Alex Rubia, Dana Adam Shapiro
Synopsis: This documentary follows the American wheelchair rugby team in the run up to the Paralympics in Athens in 2004 and demonstrates the positive effects competitive sport can for those with disabilities.
Every stereotype one would attribute to disability is subverted in this film. The focus is well and truly on the sporting ability of these individuals rather than their handicap which is refreshing and empowering.
It proves that everyone is striving for the same clichés.
Director: Jane Preston
Synopsis: A documentation of Paul Gascoigne’s talents and vulnerabilities using in depth interviews with Gary Lineker, Wayne Rooney, Jose Mourinho and Gazza himself.
Images of Gazza crying on field after England’s World Cup exit in 1990 define the national footballing woes of numerous generations. This unwavering pride and love of the game similarly defines Gascoigne himself, and is something painfully lacking amongst footballers today. Gascoigne’s talent and vulnerability is the driving force of this film, and demands we define him by his actions on the pitch and not those out of his control, off it.
Director: Alex Holmes
Synopsis: A comprehensive portrayal of Lance Armstrong and his lifetime of dishonesty.
This film is as horrifying as it is fascinating and comprehensively documents the greatest fraud in sporting history. The documentary goes out of its way to remain impartial, however, no sympathy can be found for a sociopath like Armstrong, the likes of which, one would hope, will never be seen again in sport.
Truly compulsive viewing.
Director: Steve James
Synopsis: A film following two inner-city Chicago basketball players as they struggle on the road to turning professional.
Two young men, William Gates and Arthur Agee, are followed throughout their whole High-School career with focus placed not merely on the sporting obstacles they face, but the socio-political. Hoop Dreams is a painful investigation into how the livelihood of an entire family rests on one exam mark or one basket. This film is as much about race, class and education as it is about sport and every aspect contributes to a whole greater than the sum of its parts.
Director: Leon Gast
Synopsis: The legendary tale of the 1974 heavyweight championship bout in Zaire between champion George Foreman and underdog Muhammad Ali, commonly known as ‘The Rumble in the Jungle’.
Ali’s charisma makes this film.
Director: Kevin Macdonald
Synopsis: The unbelievable true story of two British mountaineers’ fight for survival as their attempt to scale the Suela Grande in the Peruvian Andes goes tits up.
Touching The Void is stunningly real, so much so that I felt physically out of breath after watching it. The dramatic re-enactment works perfectly alongside interviews with those involved, think of it like a better version of BBC’s ‘Accidental Heroes’ (it took me at least 30 mins to find the name of that show)*.
It remains to this day the most successful documentary in British film history, and for good reason.
Director: Asif Kapadia
Synopsis: The story of legendary Brazilian Formula One driver Ayrton Senna.
Senna is the perfect character focussed documentary. The risks of chasing success ultimately proved fatal, but Senna’s entrenched desire to be the best is palpable throughout.
The exclusive use of archive footage and lack of ‘talking heads’ sets this apart from many other documentaries and places the focus exactly where the title suggests.
Why aren’t more biopics like this?
Directors: Daniel Lindsay, T.J. Martin
Synopsis: Academy Award winning underdog story following the underfunded and underprivileged Manassas Tigers American football team and their coach Bill Courtney.
The winning formula for a sports documentary is when sport, politics and culture combine. The ability to transcend subject matter and engage all audiences isn’t bad either. Undefeated does all these things and is a great display of every sporting cliché you could ever want.
Even if, like me, you know exactly nothing about American Football, you will find this both inspirational and affecting.
*In hindsight, the joke really wasn’t funny enough to justify the research.