Sunday, March 27, 2011

JayD's hard knock rise

With Rise & Shine: The Jay DeMerit Story, it's hard not to notice the connections between filmmakers and subject. The production/direction team of Nick Lewis and Ranko Tutulugdzija have broken into the documentary game by eagerly wandering into the unknown and by making it personal.

The pair are professionals in other fields and amateurs at film - but the crossover novices had two major somethings on their side from the go. For starters, Tutulugdzija was a UI-Chicago teammate of DeMerit's, giving the duo family-style access to a long list of key figures in this story.

And make no mistake, it is a fantastic tale to tell (the second major something). These two factors combine to liven up the narrative even for those, like me, who thought they knew the whole story.

Of course, we basically do. But the charming group of people on either side of the pond add lots of flavor with amusing anecdotes and recollections of reactions around DeMerit at various key times. Each in their own way, family, friends, former coaches and scouts repeatedly display awe at the way this Wisconsin kid willed his way to dream fulfillment. It's easy to see how proud these folks are to have played a part in his wild ride.

The film expands narrative focus when it reaches World Cup 2010, which is probably best left to the beholder's eye. Some may find it a natural progression for a story that grows bigger as it goes, while others could feel the central DeMerit plot is lost a bit.

Either way, there's no negative on offer bad enough to spoil the movie. The rookie filmmakers have put together a strong debut. It has the gritty details, plenty of humor and just enough poignancy of thought for the guys like Jay who never make it for viewers to appreciate the risks and responsibilities the young world traveler accepted in living his adventure before it reached storybook status.

Let's be clear: I saw a workprint, an unfinished version still missing some of the game footage, graphics and end product edge smoothness. Therefore, it's best for now to avoid discussing most of the technical matters, which the filmmakers wisely turned over to experienced editor/cinematographer Zach Salsman. Put simply, it would be silly to offer this post as a proper movie review.

While the film awaits final touches, Lewis and Tutulugdzija are still working on distribution. Until they can come up with partners to finance the fees for including match clips in a wide release, The Jay DeMerit Story will be confined to festival showings. So far, the schedule only includes early April showings at Vancouver's Canada International Film Festival (where it is a Rising Star nominee... how fitting) and south Florida's Downtown Boca Film Festival.

While I will refrain at this time from dropping a definitive grade on the movie, I can testify that it is more than good enough to please and emotionally engage viewers with little or no interest in soccer. Let's all hope it soon finds the wider release it deserves and then you all can see what I mean.



- Greg Seltzer

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