Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Independent Film Festival of Boston 2007 Monday: Rumbo a las Grandes Ligas

There had been rumors going around that David Ortiz would make an appearance at this film's premiere, but that didn't happen. There was a little wave of disappointment in the audience, but it had never been more than a rumor. I don't feel inclined to begrudge a major leaguer a full day off when the schedule gives him one.

Not a bad little movie, although there's an argument to be made that it's a little too upbeat - the Dominican is a poor country with a lot of kids looking to baseball as a means to succeed - and there just aren't that many job openings for major league baseball players. But it is a film about the steps taken to get there, less than an hour long, so there's just not as much emphasis on the kids who don't make it.

One thing I found interesting was that the producers were unusually open when asked the distribution question - usually they give a vaguely evasive "we're talking to a number of groups" sort of thing, but here they actually said they were talking to ESPN Deportes, hoping to air this fall.

Today's plan: Brooklyn Rules (only thing playing)

Rumbo a las Grandes Ligas (Road to the Big Leagues)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 30 April 2007 at the Somerville Theatre #1 (Independent Film Festival of Boston)

I think the Dominican Republic exports more sugar than it does baseball players, although you might guess otherwise by looking at a typical Major League roster: That small country on a Caribbean island is probably the best represented relative to its population, and there's good reason: The entire country is crazy for the game, and the lack of many better opportunities available serves as a powerful motivator.

Rather than follow one would-be ballplayer as he makes his way through the system, director Jared Goodman takes cross-section: There's a twelve-year-old who hones his skills playing vidilla (a game that involves hitting a bottle cap with a broomstick) during the hours when he can't play in an organized league and idolizes Red Sox star David Ortiz, a seventeen-year-old who after failing a tryout for the San Diego Padres dedicates himself to improving himself for the scouts' next trip through a month later, the young men in the New York Mets' Dominican baseball academy, and, of course, major leaguers Ortiz and Vladimir Guerrero . There's also a cautionary tale of a player who became persona non grata with professional baseball after discrepancies were found in his birth records.

Juan Cabrera, the teenager initially rejected by the Padres, will likely make the strongest impression on the audience as the film follows him over a couple of months. His story follows the traditional narrative arc structure the closest, with initial hardship, efforts made to overcome it, and a conclusion of sorts. He's a likable kid, lacking the cockiness of many of the other participants, and otherwise very focused. When Ortiz says that Cabrera reminds him of a young Alex Rodriguez, he doesn't let it go to his head but uses it as a reason to work harder. Even if we don't know if he'll succeed by the end of the movie - Rumbo was shot in early 2006, and even if signed, he'll probably spend a few years working his way up the ladder - we've got a stake in it.

Full review at HBS.

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