Monday, June 16, 2008

'Holy Land Hardball' documentary directors cagy about facts & fate of the Israel Baseball League

EXPRESS: "I saw on the Israeli league site that
it looks like they will try a second season after all.
Are you surprised they're able to get it going again
and do you think it will be a long-term success?"

KESTEN: "That's a very hard question to answer.
We're not privy to everything going on from a
business sense of the league. It's not easy..."

Holy Land Hardball, the independent documentary film about the start-up of the Israel Baseball League, has its world premiere this week in Silver Spring, Maryland, and in the lead-up to its debut, the film's directors are being understandably elusive when it comes to revealing the truth about the eventual fate of the league-- debts, lawsuits, defections, scandal, and as Our Man Elli in Israel reported here before anyone else on April 14th, the cancellation of its second season and possibly its closure-- and even insinuating that the ill-timed venture was a success.

Brett Rapkin and Erik Kesten are interviewed in The Washington Post's Express newspaper, and one thing is for certain: the deliberately misleading information on the Israel Baseball League website has done the trick-- duping another hapless journalist (the interviewer) into reporting the factoid and spreading the misconception that professional baseball is alive and well in Israel.

Whether the directors take the story to its conclusion will be revealed this week. Meanwhile, the film itself promises to be compelling, as it seems to touch all the proper emotional bases and culls from the crop the most colorful personalities and situations.

In particular, the directors point out players Nate Fish and Erik Holtz, the husband, father and businessman who abandoned responsibilities in the States to play a boy's game n Israel:

» RAPKIN: Eric Holtz, we grabbed later, though we got good footage at that first tryout. We got to know him and found him really compelling. The fact he had family but was still willing to spend time in Israel, leave behind a lot of responsibilities, was really riveting...

» EXPRESS: I really liked the Holtz family. It was interesting how comfortable the wife got on camera. You see her go through different emotions; see her being supportive, and other times seem less-than-thrilled about the idea of her husband going to play in Israel.

» KESTEN: We were surprised how open she was. Sometimes, the camera can be a great tool. People may open up. I think a lot had been building up and she wanted to document it in some way. Learned that was their relationship. They give it to each other. I think a lot of people relate. They've been married a while, they get on each other's nerves, but they love each other. They accept each other's dreams. We think the world of that family.

Of course, the mystery man in the production is Larry Baras, the Boston bagel baron who started up the league, and according to the directors, may have pushed a little too hard to make the starting date.

» EXPRESS: Do you think the owner knew what he was doing putting the league together?

» RAPKIN: There was a lot of conversation about doing it last summer or this summer for the first year. Larry felt they needed to put stake in the ground June 24, 2007. They had momentum going and decided it was time to give it a shot. In hindsight, maybe they do things differently. At the end of day, they pulled off the first and last pitch, named a champion, had 120 players from nine countries, got managers who were some of the most prolific Jewish players of all time and pulled off a successful season.

» KESTEN: The question was one of the biggest draws to the story. As exciting an idea as it seemed, it also seemed destined to fail. When you look at the facts, you had a Jewish guy from Boston in the baking industry with no sports experience who decides he's going to be the one to bring professional baseball league to the Middle East. It seemed far-fetched. Pass or fail, it seemed like a great story one way or the other. They didn't seem fully prepared. We wanted to see what would happen.

And no, the filmmakers make no mention of the cameo by Our Man Elli. Read the entire interview here.

(HOLY LAND HARDBALL plays this week at the American Film Institutes Silver Theatre, 8633 Colesville Rd., Silver Spring, Maryland; Thu., 4 p.m., Sun., 10:15 a.m., $9.75; 301-495-6720.

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