It's well worth your while to catch up with a couple documentary shorts about local sports that screened as a double feature last week at the Indy Film Fest. First up on the bill was Black Baseball in Indiana, an effectively lensed and edited history of African-American baseball in the Indiana of the early 20th century that includes archival footage of baseball icons and impressive recreations of historical baseball. The doc kicks off with a wide-ranging survey that looks at a laundry list of teams and players from around the state. It can be a lot of information to process, but it grounds the piece as the focus shifts to one team in particular.
The Indianapolis Clowns, touted as the Harlem Globetrotters of baseball, take up the most sizable chunk of film, and interviews with surviving players and sport historians shine lights on the legendary antics of the team. Engaging in gags to the delight of all-ages audiences, the Clowns played some serious ball, too, being one of the first major teams to include Hank Aaron, the former home-run record holder, on its roster.
The 30-minute film was produced by Ball State students, under the advisement of Negro Leagues historian Geri Strecker. More information and excerpts from the film are available at blackbaseball.tumblr.com.
On the second half of the bill was Lucky Teter and his Hell Drivers, about a proto-Evel-Knievel stunt driver who thrilled state- and county-fair audiences in the 1930s with gravity-defying jumps and death-defying rolls executed in fresh, unmodified Plymouths. Wearing nothing but a pair of lucky boots, a leather football helmet and goggles, Lucky Teter would jump his cars not through just rings of fire, but walls of flaming two-by-fours, a stunt duplicated by the unit of motorcycle drivers he traveled the country with. The archival footage of Teter and his group doing their stunts is breathtaking even by today's Hollywood standards. Interviews with some of the old Hell Drivers and their offspring sheds personal light on Teter himself.
As the documentary follows his story's too-tragic-to-be-true arc, it mixes sepia-toned film clips with interviews with the men who've taken over the Hell Driver franchise. An interview with Teter from an old radio broadcast is used throughout to shine light on the man's simple sense of humor about his life-threatening line of work. A tight piece through and through, the film made me wonder how my old '95 Accord might hold up on a double barrel roll. Lucky Teter and his Hell Drivers was directed by Dan T. Hall and narrated by Dave Dugan. A DVD is available directly from Vizmo Films for $19.95.
Here's a sample of what the film has to offer (the cool old-school stunts start around 2:00):