Hollywood and the Canadian film industry love turning sports stories into movies – especially fact-based, against all-odds, underdog-to-overachiever athletic tales.
“Remember the Titans” chronicled a Virginia high school football team overcoming racial barriers to become champions. “Pride” captured the story of the U.S.’s first all-black competitive swim team. “Crooked Arrows” spun the real-life-inspired tale of a Native American youth lacrosse team. Heck, even Disney couldn’t resist turning the story of the Jamaican Bobsled Olympic team into the comedy “Cool Runnings.”
But when it comes to making feature films or documentaries about the rise of blacks in ice hockey, it seems to be a challenge convincing the entertainment powers that be that it’s a worthwhile venture. That hasn’t stopped Kwame Damon Mason, Joe Doughrity and George Fosty from trying.
For years, the three men have separately been knocking on the doors of film and television industry-types on both sides of the border to get them interested in supporting, funding, and eventually airing their individual hockey film projects.
“It’s a tough sell,” Doughrity told me recently. “When I’ve had meetings at studios about it, they think it’s a great story but hockey is the fourth or fifth sport. It’s not the NFL, the NBA or Major League Baseball.”
It’s not like hockey is an unknown quantity to showbiz folks. The sport has starred or played a prominent role in many a film, from the 1970 tear-jerker “Love Story” to Paul Newman’s classic “Slap Shot” to director John Singleton’s “Four Brothers.”
Television and film producer Jerry Bruckheimer is a pick up hockey regular in L.A. And Academy Award-winning actor Cuba Gooding, Jr., has been known to suit up for games. Still, getting a black hockey project green-lighted has been a slow slog.
Doughrity, a Detroit transplant who moved to Los Angeles to pursue a movie industry career, has been searching for backing to finish the documentary he started on the Detroit Rockies, an all-black Midget AA team that shocked the hockey world by winning a Can/Am tournament in Lake Placid in 1995. The young Detroiters outscored their U.S. and Canadian competition 35-8 on the way to capturing the title.
The Rockies’ story is compelling enough that Doughrity is working with Fox Television Studios on a pilot that uses the team as a springboard to explore the passion for the game and the resilience of the people of Detroit. He’s also working towards a feature film about the team.
“It’s been happening for a couple of years now,” Doughrity said of the television pilot. “On the feature film side, a pretty well-known producer named Mike Karz, he’s done a bunch of Adam Sandler films, he’s spearheading the feature film version. I can’t tell you anything definitively about a start date, who might be in it, because it’s all in its infancy.”
Still, the slow pace of the projects hasn’t diminished Doughrity’s excitement or drive to get the Detroit hockey story on the big or small screen.
“I love the story,” he said. “It will help make black kids feel comfortable playing the sport because they get it from both sides: they get it white kids who don’t think we play hockey, they get it from black kids who don’t think we play hockey. I want to make something cool about being black and playing hockey.”
Mason, a Toronto resident, recently launched an online fundraising drive on to support
his documentary: “Soul on Ice: Past, Present & Future.” For his project, Mason has interviewed some of the game’s black trailblazers, including the late Quebec Aces legend Herb Carnegie, who was regarded as one of the greatest hockey players never to reach the NHL; current players such as forward Joel Ward of the Washington Capitals; and follows the budding career of Jaden Lindo, a right wing for the Ontario Hockey League’s Owen Sound Attack. Lindo, 17, will be eligible for the 2014 National Hockey League draft this summer.
Mason hopes to have cameras rolling at Philadelphia’s Wells Fargo Center on June 27-28 to chronicle how Lindo fares at the draft. But until then, he’s out to raise $40,000 via the international crowd online fund-raising site Indiegogo to help keep film production going.
Mason has gone all-in on his project. He set aside his job in radio two-and-a-half years ago to devote all his time to conducting interviews, raising money, and trying to persuade entities like the Canadian Broadcasting Company to air the documentary when its hopefully finished by next September.
“I’m just being a starving artist right now and putting everything into the project,” he said. “It’s a perfect time for it, more blacks are coming into the league,” Mason said. “It’s not a new phenomenon with blacks playing in the NHL. But I think there needs to be this attention or understanding about the history of it because, as they say, you can’t know where you’re going unless you know where you’re coming from.”
Fosty and his brother, Darril, are equally passionate when it comes to trying to generate studio and investor interest in expanding their documentary which is based on their 2004 ground-breaking book, “Black Ice: The Lost History of the Colored Hockey Leagues of the Maritimes, 1895-1925.”
The book and documentary trace the roots of modern hockey, from the slap shot to butterfly-style goaltending, to an all-black league comprised largely of runaway U.S. slaves who settled in the Canadian Maritimes.
“It’s not been easy at all,” George Fosty told me. “You walk in with a hockey history, and a black history on top of it, add a Canadian history element to it, that’s three strikes and you’re out of it already. They’re going to say ‘Somebody in Iowa is not going to be interested in this.'”
But he and other filmmakers say that perception is slowly fading as movie and TV executives are taking note that the changing complexion of hockey reflects the changing racial and ethnic demographics of the United States and Canada. in other words, movie-goers and TV audiences are becoming browner.
Fosty says recent conversations that he’s had with Canadian television executives about the possibility of making “Black Ice” a made-for-TV movie make him feel encouraged that the tide may finally be changing for him, Doughrity, Mason and their projects.
“We’re rounding third and heading home,” Fosty said. “These films will be reality, they will be made. Now do you want to work with us or stay on the sidelines? That’s the big question in the meetings we have with industry people today.”
For more information on Joe Doughrity and his hockey film project, visit https://www.facebook.com/joedfilmmaker, follow him on Twitter @afropuck or email him firstname.lastname@example.org. To Learn more about Kwame Damon Mason’s project, visit Indiegogo at http://igg.me/p/542885/x/4899078. For more on George Fosty’s “Black Ice” efforts, contact him at email@example.com.