Filmmaker Steve Sabol, who died Monday, was sitting in a lobby outside the Steinbeck Forum on a Sunday afternoon sometime, I’m guessing, back 25 years or so. By his side was the massive Football Hall of Fame lineman Merlin Olsen, both dapper in suit and ties.
The event was a film festival in Monterey, California and Sabol was being honored for his work filming professional football. The rub: his film was the last in the several-day event and, judging by the few people in the lobby and few in the theater just ten minutes before the screening, the ``crowd’’ was going to be thin, to say the least.
A few weeks earlier I had done a newspaper telephone interview with Sabol about his work being honored by the festival.
He did not play it coool. He was excited and exuberant. Like a kid. Here he had been making films about football and he was going to be shown along with some fairly prominent filmmakers in more established fields of documentary, animated and feature films.
Now, waiting in the lobby, he looked deeply disappointed, and I couldn’t blame him, though those who do the film festival circuit can describe some pretty dismal experiences. It’s hardly all glamour and glory. But this was new to Sabol and he had been expecting a lot more.
I went up and introduced myself. Sabol was polite, smiled, and thanked me for my story, but Olsen gave me a look. I was glad he remained seated.
I said I couldn’t believe there weren’t at least festival officials on hand, and I wrote that the next day, criticizing the festival board. They should have been there until the festival’s final minute. If you can’t show up to view the honored work, how could you expect anyone else to? You owe it to the filmmakers.
The screening, thankfully, went well. Olsen and another person got up and said some things, and then, to maybe a few dozen people at most, the film was presented in all of its artistry – showing the grace, speed and ballet-like moves of the athletes as well as the thunderous hits, though at the time we did not realize those hits would result in brain damage to so many of the athletes.
The camera work was superb, revolutionary in some ways for its time, and Sabol was responsible for that. In addition to criticizing the festival for its shabby treatment of Sabol, I wrote the next day that Sabol would likely grow restless shooting just football and might turn to other kinds of filmmaking. I was wrong about that.
I have wondered over the last several years how Sabol felt about all the reports of brain damage coming out of football these days, if maybe he rued his work, especially after he himself developed brain cancer. His films had, after all, glamorized a sport that severely damages many of its participants.
Olsen died two years ago of cancer at age 69. Sabol died Monday of cancer at age 69. The festival was, if I remember correctly, discontinued after that one year.
Causes Steve Hauk Supports
City of Pacific Grove Public Library, Pacific Grove, California; Animal Friends Rescue Project, Pacific Grove; Animal Welfare Information and Assistance,...