Saturday, April 4, 2009

Training Rules

The Philadelphia Cinefest is rolling to a conclusion, but this weekend is full of good stuff for movie lovers. A choice event was tonight's world premiere of a documentary about prejudice in the world of women's basketball.
Training Rules focuses on specific practices at Penn State but touches on the the broader topic in general as well. The core of this story is a young woman, Jen Harris, who was dismissed from the basketball team for being perceived to be a lesbian. From there, the filmmakers looked into other cases that showed a history of homophobia in the women's basketball program at Penn State revolving around coach Rene Portland's stated policies of not allowing lesbians on her team.
It's hard to take a story like this and not make a compelling film. Where many filmmakers would allow the intense story carry the documentary, Dee Mosbacher and Fawn Yacker decide not to take the lazy route. Weaving together the tails of several different student athletes that faced hardship in the PSU basketball program is done with finesse and compassion. Compelling subjects are complemented by adept storytelling by the director.
Harris's story is enough to keep an audience's interest. A stellar athlete who is also an outstanding student and seems to have all the promise and potential that any kid coming out of high school could have. Her dreams of playing in the WNBA seemed not just realistic, but certain. After being forced out of the team by Portland's policies, Harris and her family decided to stand up and, as is said in the movie, make sure this doesn't happen to another player.
That story alone is enough to draw an audience in and keep them in, but Mosbacher and Yacker found several other former players and coaches who faced similar treatment in the PSU basketball program.
Sadly, many of the former players did not live in a society that saw the injustice of these policies and were not afforded the opportunity to stand up for themselves at the time. Many of them, and probably countless others there and at other schools, were forced to just accept the injustice and walk away hurt and defeated.
The only real downside of Training Rules is the decidedly narrow scope of its potential audience and therefore its budget constraints, sadly the fate of far too many excellent documentaries.
Training Rules gets an A-
--John Berry, Online Editor--


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