Breaking down barriers at the Tribeca Film Festival

A female reporter interviews an athlete in the locker room after the game. Credit: Charles Miller
A female reporter interviews an athlete in the locker room after the game.
Credit: Charles Miller

In hopes of broadening the audience for independent film this year’s seventh annual Tribeca/ESPN Sports Film Festival will feature nine films including four from ESPN Film’s “Nine for IX” series, which celebrates the fortieth anniversary of Title IX.

“Let Them Wear Towels” dives into the world of female sports journalists and their decades-long fight for equal rights as their male counterparts.

“It’s a provocative film,” Annie Sundberg, co-director of the film said. “People have strong ideas that the world of sports is still a boys club.”

During the 1977 World Series, Sports Illustrated reporter Melissa Ludkte put up a very public fight after she was denied access to the players’ locker room. Eventually, the door was opened, but female sports reporters still had trouble navigating the male-dominated world of sports.

“We found that these women’s stories have an impact on us today,” said co-director, Ricki Stern. “The women were groundbreaking not only in sports writing. They took one further step in equal rights for all.”

The leading women of the 70s paved the way for Sundberg and Stern. The two recently worked on a feature documentary titled “Knuckleball,” where they followed Boston Red Sox pitcher Tim Wakefield and New York Mets pitcher RA Dickey over the 2011 season. Thanks to the legal battles in the 1970s, Stern and Sundberg now had access to stadiums, press boxes and locker rooms.

As both directors now have daughters, they said it is important for the girls to grow up knowing that women didn’t always have equal access to some professions as men.

The partnership between the Tribeca Film Festival and ESPN allows for films that explore the sports world.

“Sports stories are the perfect fodder for good film-making,” Sundberg said.

Sidebar:

The nine films in the Tribeca/ESPN series include:

Big Shot
Director: Kevin Connolly

McConkey
Directors: Steve Winter, Murray Wais, Scott Gaffney, David Zieff, Rob Bruce

Lenny Cooke:
Directors: Benny Safdie and Joshua Safdie

The Trials of Muhammad Ali
Director: Bill Siegel

The Motivation
Director: Adam Bhala Lough

Pat XO
Directors: Lisa Lax, Nancy Stern Winters

The Diplomat
Directors: Senain Kheshgi, Jennifer Arnold

No Limits
Directors: Alison Ellwood

Let them Wear Towels
Directors: Ricki Stern, Annie Sundberg


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