The baseball season semi-officially begins in a little over two weeks, when pitchers and catchers report to spring training. While well-paid professional ballplayers were relaxing in the off-season, Eugene Corr plowed ahead with his bi-national baseball documentary From Ghost Town to Havana.
The veteran Berkeley filmmaker was turned on a few years ago to the Havana baseball scene by a friend who organizes tours to Cuba. Corr visited the bubbling Sports City complex, where he met a coach who’d once played in the St. Louis Cardinals system and had a shot at the major leagues, but chose instead to return to his homeland because he believed in the revolution.
"It happens to filmmakers: The whole film I wanted to make came in a flash," Corr recalls. "It was like going back to Richmond in 1952. The Cuban kids are caught in the web of love and adult supervision. Family life is very rich. The problem is too much parental involvement."
The Cuban ethos, says Corr, "is a combination of rote Communist pedagogy and real warm Caribbean values. But it works. It’s not really creative but the kids are really involved. You get health care, you’re safe in the streets, you get a good education. But it’s tough to be an adult. It’s heaven for boys and a kind of hell sometimes for adults."
Corr grew up in the East Bay, the son of a coach. "African American parents routinely showed up at their children’s games," he remembers. "They taught and played catch with their kids." Any number of factors, from Prop. 13 to the influence of gangs, set back the African American community in the intervening decades and curtailed the opportunities for children.
"The biggest thing that’s emerged in West Oakland is that these kids are so damn isolated—economically, geographically, socially, every way you can cut it," Corr laments. "Roscoe [a coach and another subject of the film] was taking a team over to San Francisco. These are noisy black kids, and suddenly they were quiet: Not one of the kids in his van had ever been to San Francisco. They live seven miles from San Francisco."
Corr plans to travel with a small group of children to Cuba next November or December, and give them a potentially life-changing experience of the larger world. He needs to raise the money for the trip, as well as the budget to film the expedition, and is hustling as we speak to make the deadline for the Sundance Documentary Fund.
Corr’s name may ring bells. He received an Oscar nomination for the documentary Waldo Salt: A Screenwriter’s Journey, and his 1986 feature debut, Desert Bloom, starred Jon Voight and JoBeth Williams. Corr, who worked in East Bay factories from his teens through his early 20s, got his production bona fides as a member of the ’70s Cine Manifest collective that included Rob Nilsson. "I’ve had a funny career," Corr allows.
The director envisions having a good cut, though not necessarily a fine cut, of the feature-length From Ghost Town to Havana by the end of the year. He begins a postproduction residency June 15 at FilmHouse, the new production-space program of the San Francisco Film Society and the SF Film Commission. When I throw him a curve, suggesting that younger FilmHouse residents may pull him away from his own project to look at their rough cuts, Corr chuckles and voices his enthusiasm for the idea. "Filmmakers need a place to work, and they need a place to work with other people," he asserts. "Filmmaking is a ‘we’ process, I think more than any other art."
Notes from the Underground
Congrats to Academy Award nominees Steven Okazaki (The Conscience of Nhem En) and Megan Mylan (Smile Pinki) in the Documentary Short Subject category. . . . The Panorama section of the Berlin Film Festival (Feb 5-15) celebrates its 30th anniversary by screening Rob Epstein’s The Times of Harvey Milk and Gus Van Sant’s Oscar-nominated Milk, along with the work of other filmmakers who got their starts in the sidebar. . . . Oscar nominee John Lasseter, along with all the directors in the brief, bright history of Pixar, will receive the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement at the 66th Venice International Film Festival in September. . . . Arne Johnson and Shane King’s Girls Rock! just came out on DVD. . . . The S.F.-based National Film Preservation Foundation releases the two-disc set Treasures IV: American Avant-Garde Film, 1947-1986 on March 3. The San Francisco Cinematheque will salute the occasion with a show in April.
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