The 2015 Tribeca Film Festival in April is the first time the Tribeca/ESPN sports film festival will have a premier at the gala that isn’t an ESPN 30 for 30 production. The honor goes to documentary filmmakers Andrea Blaugrund Nevins and Cristan Reilly of Rare Bird Films who will show their newest release Play it Forward.
The film is an intimate contrast between future NFL tight end Tony Gonzalez and his older brother Chris. Tony played for the Kansas City Chiefs and Atlanta Falcons and holds the NFL record for most receptions and touchdowns by a tight end. Chris was his mentor and coached who helped Tony learn the finer points of the game, but Chris was unable to play the game himself because of injuries sustained during a childhood accident.
Play it Forward grew from a conversation that Andrea and Cristan had with Michael Strahan about NFL players making the transition into retirement. Andrea said the production showed her the power of point of view in filmmaking and the value of being open to twists and turns in the narrative.
“The first day we were shooting with Tony we happened to be sitting in his car and letting the camera roll,” said Andrea. “We were figuring out who his family was, what his background was, and he said he had a brother.”
Andrea recalled the moment. “Tony said, ‘I get really emotional when I talk about my brother because I wouldn’t be playing football if it weren’t for him. I keep telling him that he should be a coach, but he wants to be a fireman.’ And that stopped me in my tracks. What superstar ever says that what he did and achieved was because of his brother?”
Chris’ desire to help others even though he was struggling to secure his own career in the fire department caused Andrea, Cristan, and Geoff Franklin, director of photography and editor, to make a risky decision. The crew had already cut a 90-minute film from Tony’s perspective, but decided to re-cut the film bringing in more of Chris’ perspective.
The story builds and ends with a subtlety that delivers an emotional punch.
Rare Bird Films is spreading its wings after a string of productions that include The Other F Word, a look at punk rockers becoming dads; State of Play: Happiness; Play it Forward; and Q, a look at the life of music impresario Quincy Jones through the eyes of his daughter Rashida.
To stay up to date with the productions, visit the Rare Bird Films website.
Andrea and Cristan’s story has been written up on the Where We Live Work Play.com website.