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The Art of the Unforeseeable


April 24, 2014

Filmmakers Alex Gibney and Brett Ratner speak onstage during the 'ESPN Films' 30 for 30 Soccer Stories' panel discussion at the ESPN portion of the 2014 Winter Television Critics Association tour at the Langham Hotel on January 11, 2014 in Pasadena, California. (Source: Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images North America)

30 for 30 Soccer Stories: Maradona ’86

 “ Inevitably sports stir passions and passions also stir politics” Alex Gibney

By Valerie Milano

Pasadena, CA (The Hollywood Times) 4/24/14 – ESPN has rolled out a series focusing on the world’s most popular sport – Football. Oops sorry, in America we call it Soccer and it languishes in the margins of American consciousness. 30 for 30 addresses this issue by premiering a series of mini-documentaries profiling the sport’s greatest moments.

The first installment is titled, “The Art of The Unforseeable” and profiles the exploits or Argentina’s greatest soccer icon Maradona, Acknowledged as the greatest footballer since Pele’- Maradona followed a blueprint to stardom common to many South American footballers of his era. Specifically, playing for the love of the game as an impoverished youth on dirt pitches until fate catapulted him into the national consciousness as the best player in the world and the hope of a nation. Central and South America follow the game with a fervor far beyond that of religion or ideology. Maradona essentially becomes the face of Argentina. It’s as if Michael Jackson and Michael Jordan were morphed into a single entity. All this iconography housed in a short, stumpy body that looks like the demon spawn of Herve Villechaize and Al Frankin.

We pick up the story in the 1982 World Cup finals where Argentina does the unthinkable and loses to Italy in the World Cup. Before the final whistle Maradona takes it upon himself to deliver a stiff kick to the solar plexus of an Italian player resulting in a red card expelling him for the remainder of the match. A similar display of temper in Hockey would get you a two minute Gatorade break in penalty box. However, in the fundamentalist soccer culture, Maradona not only committed the unpardonable sin of losing, but dishonored the nation of Argentina with his poor sportsmanship.

The next four years pass with Maradona existing in an uncomfortable celebrity purgatory. He is the most identifiable face in a nation whose entire population are soccer psychotics. He’s hailed as a genius, native son and loser. His cockiness and outspoken demeanor only exacerbates matters.

Fast forward to the 1986 World Cup quarterfinals against Britain; a fairly unremarkable early round match-up right? Wrong, this is 1986, Argentina and Britain are in a state of war over who holds the deed over the Falkland Islands. In a manner unique to the sport’s psychotic fan base, both nation’s citizenry and their media go ape-shit strawberrys over the impending match; giving it a geo-political subplot not seen since the USA vs. USSR Olympic hockey smack-down.

Maradona doesn’t disappoint. First he scores a clutch phantom goal against Britain that most concede should have been disallowed because he used his hand. Maradona not only gave good drama but provoked international debate as well. Argentina went on to win the finals in dramatic fashion courtesy of the magical skills of Maradona. The narrative is masterfully constructed with dramatic archival footage. Moreover, in the tradition of all mythological characters; Maradona achieved greatness, disgrace, and redemption in equal and satisfying portions. Argentina’s manhood was restored. Britain ended up with the consolation prize of the Falkland Islands.

The closing image of Maradona executing his football parlor tricks with a beach-ball sized globe was the perfect Chaplinesque’ closing to a profile about an enigmatic athlete described as…..” a dirty god, a sinner, the most human of the deities.”

The The Hollywood Times and the TCA had the opportunity to speak to Libby Geist, Director of Development at ESPN Films and documentary director and contributor Alex Gibney.

Alex Gibney spoke about the relevance of sports in popular culture, ALEX GIBNEY: “ I think that sports capture our emotions and I think sports also stand for something bigger. I mean, if we didn’t root so passionately for sports, you know, they wouldn’t be there. We wouldn’t care. And they tend to mean something more than what they are. And sure, the players have to do their job and their job is to win on the field. But the fans imbue them with a tremendous amount of significance that goes way beyond the sport itself, and I think it’s always going to be that way. You know, you saw that great there’s that wonderful story about Nelson Mandela and the rugby team in South Africa. I mean, you know, inevitably sports stir passions and passions also stir politics, as you know.”

Libby Geist talked about why the sport of soccer, in particular was such an attractive subject for a documentary, LIBBY GEIST: “I think that one of the challenges, but beauties of developing this series, was that soccer specifically is so rich in passion internationally that a lot of times you were a little bit contained. But here, we said we want international stories. And in a lot of cases worldwide, that means war and that means these unbelievable moments that are outside of sports typically. So these are obviously really emotional, often pretty intense stories. But that’s what “30 for 30″ is, is sort of the context around and the culture around sports is what we really love and embrace and have had success with before.”