Year in Review 2020: The good, the bad and the ugly of sports documentaries released this year

From The Last Dance to Beyond the Boundary, here are some of the good and not-so-good sports documentaries released this year

FP Sports December 29, 2020 17:30:22 IST
Year in Review 2020: The good, the bad and the ugly of sports documentaries released this year

The Last Dance poster. Image Courtesy: Twitter/Netflix

A pandemic year meant a lot of sporting action was stopped for a brief period in 2020. The close substitute for lack of real-time sports during the lockdown were sports-related documentaries. Streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video did their bit when it came to satiating sports fans with their offerings of docu-series.

Here, we list some of the good and not-so-good sports documentaries released this year.

The Test: A New Era for Australia's Team (On Amazon Prime Video)

The idea of an eight-episode documentary series on Australia men's cricket team sounds fascinating. The end product was a bit underwhelming but still, it was an entertaining watch thanks to the access given to the cameras. The series starts off with Justin Langer getting appointed as the new head coach after a damaging ball-tampering scandal in Cape Town, which led to the suspension of Steve Smith, David Warner, and Cameron Bancroft and ends with the conclusion of the Ashes. The narrative is focused on the new coach as he tries to find a new identity for the team and at the same time not compromising on their ruthless competitive nature.

The best bits are not 'on the field' stuff, although there's plenty of it, but when cricketers make their debuts, talk about missing their family, and experience close defeats. This is where 'The Test's' emotional quotient comes from and makes it worth the time. Having said that, this documentary could have been much more.

The Last Dance (On Netflix)

ESPN and Netflix’s The Last Dance provided fans of basketball with a real deep-dive into what is probably the most famous era of the sports history – the age of Michael Jordan. The documentary covers Jordan’s years of success with the Chicago Bulls, with a particular emphasis on the sixth and final championship that Jordan would win during his tenure at the franchise.

With some really interesting never-before-seen footage, several hours’ worth of interviews with too many people to keep a track off and really compelling story-telling, The Last Dance makes for a truly engaging watch that’ll have you walk away with a newfound admiration for the sporting icon that is Michael Jordan.

Rising Phoenix (On Netflix)

“The Olympics is where the heroes are created. The Paralympics are where the heroes come,” says Xavi Gonzalez, CEO of International Paralympic Committee from 2004 to 2019 at the start of Rising Phoenix.

This riveting documentary is an attempt to showcase the Paralympic movement by putting the spotlight on a few handpicked athletes. Rising Phoenix traces the evolution of the Paralympic Games as something that emerged in the wake of World War II, but still remains in the shadow of the Olympics. But through the documentary, it seeks to distinguish itself from the Olympics.

For one, it attempts to show the softer side of sporting rivalry. There is a scene involving Italian fencing champion Bebe Vio which illustrates this. Right after Vio beats her Chinese opponent to seal gold at the Rio Paralympics, the two fencers are seen embracing and sobbing on each other’s shoulders. In another instance, Great Britain's Jonnie Peacock recounts a tale where South Africa's Oscar Pistorius, the biggest name in the Paralympics, walked up to him before their showdown at the London Paralympics, held his hand and said a prayer for him. Peacock, at the time, by courtesy of being the world record holder, was his biggest competition. Peacock won the race in front of 80,000 people.

At the start o the documentary, American archer Matt Stutzman recounts how the Iraqi contingent was just a few feet away from the American contingent which has athletes who had been injured in Iraq. "The world needs to see more of that," he says.

The documentary makes an attempt to get audiences to move past feeling sorry for Paralympians and get inspired by them. It shows how the narratives around the Paralympics are slowly becoming more about the sporting action rather than just the tragic backstories.

The documentary was supposed to coincide with the Tokyo Paralympics. But the coronavirus pandemic postponed the Olympics and the Paralympics by a year. This documentary though is a must watch.

Beyond the Boundary (On Netflix)

Beyond the Boundary, directed by Anna Stone, begins with a montage and continues to be a montage for the whole duration. The director handpicks the marquee games, most of them involving India, Australia and England, and weaves a highlight package. What you see is match after match, players entering the field, playing the game, with the editor choosing to slo mo the action during key moments of the game. This happens game after game until the final.

There is no attempt in the documentary to go beyond the tournament and look at the history of women's cricket. The irony is so very much visible, for this documentary is called Beyond the Boundary.

All or Nothing: Tottenham Hotspur (On Amazon Prime Video)

In one of the newer additions to Amazon Prime Video’s All or Nothing series, a film crew was assigned to the stadium and training grounds of Premier League giants Tottenham Hotspur in a bid to capture some behind-the-scenes drama and tension that goes along with the pressures of competing at the highest levels of sport.

Unfortunately for the makers of the documentary series, the final product turned out to be a lot less interesting than they would have hoped. The show more or less followed the same, exact path as the previous edition of All or Nothing, which covered Manchester City’s 2017-18 season, but with one key difference. The stakes were a lot lower. Not only did Tottenham not seriously challenge for a trophy, they didn’t even do so badly as to merit any interest in the content.

The documentary did have a slice of good luck though, as long-time manager Mauricio Pochettino was fired and replaced with the acerbic Jose Mourinho. Mourinho’s introduction was a welcome one, as he added some of his Portuguese charm to the series, but overall, there was nothing much of note.

The Test: A New Era for Australia's Team (On Amazon Prime Video)

The idea of a eight-episode documentary series on Australia men's cricket team sounds fascinating. The end product was bit underwhelming but still it was an entertaining watch thanks to the access given to the cameras. The series starts off with Justin Langer getting appointed as the new head coach after a damaging ball-tampering scandal in Cape Town, which led to suspension of Steve Smith, David Warner and Cameron Bancroft and ends with the conclusion of the Ashes. The narrative is focused on the new coach as he tries to find a new identity for the team and at the same time not compromising on their ruthless competitive nature.

The best bits are not 'on the field' stuff, although there's plenty of it, but when cricketers make their debuts, talk about missing their family, and experience close defeats. This is where 'The Test's' emotional quotient comes from and makes it worth the time. Having said that, this documentary could have been much more.

Inside Story: A season with Rajasthan Royals (On Red Bull TV)

In this three-episode documentary, there is nothing much to take from. The players talk about preparing well, coaches stress on the need to practice well and importance of coaching while the management speaks about how they built a team at the auction table. These are all mundane things and sports is much more than that. But one has to realise that this boring narrative is due to one basic problem – all this happens throughout the documentary because there is nothing much to tell.

There is nothing to look for in this documentary. When the makers do not even think of using the match footage and opt to make shabby animations to show the on-field action and results, you know this documentary is more of a show reel to pitch to investors. This is not meant for the audience.

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