Every documentary filmmaker’s first major hurdle is finding a subject worthy of the intense labor, spread over what is often a prolonged period of time, a subject that’s novel enough that it will stand out in a tsunami of documentaries that are finished and unleashed on the public in a given year.
I am pitched upwards of 50 documentaries a month, producers, publicists and filmmakers desperate for a review, a little recognition and a chance their film will get noticed as it reaches public presentation.
With major streaming services like Netflix and HBO, Hulu and Amazon picking them up for distribution, there’s at least a better chance of getting your story out there and seen these days.
“Hood River” is about an Oregon high school’s soccer team, the way its coach, Jaime Rivera, tries to blend the disparate players from a student body of white affluence and LatinX immigrant working poor into winners, year after year.
Yes, it seems like 240 other sports dramas, comedies and documentaries we’ve seen before it. Even the story arc, taking us through a season of lopsided wins and serious tests, has the ring of the familiar. If you’ve seen enough sports movies, you can guess where this is going, how it all will play out and who will be the hero or goat when the payoff hits.
It’s that limply predictable. Even the jolt of a kid’s father being caught, “sent to immigration jail” and deported, seems like an ingredient in a formula.
The film’s narrow focus circumscribes its reach and aims. On the field it’s somewhat interesting, off the field somewhat less. And neither plays as anything particularly new.
What’s more, it’s the first cinema verite/fly-on-the-wall documentary I’ve seen in ages that makes you painfully aware that there’s a camera in the room impacting how ordinary people — kids and their coach — behave.
The PG-party scene feels real (ish), and the Hood River Valley High Eagles games and practices have their own drama and meltdowns. Some of the home life scenes have an invisible-camera vibe. Then there’s the illegal immigrant father’s melodramatic pep talk with his son, the tall, wealthy white kid’s painfully awkward, might-not-have-been-his-idea visit with an immigrant teammate’s family so that the team captain can feel like a “leader.”
The financially-strapped immigrant family books a flight so that the son can fly down to visit deported Dad in Zihuatanejo, Guerrero, Mexico. With a film crew in tow. Did the production pay for everybody’s flight?
Needless to say, whatever drama “Hood River” delivers, I didn’t buy it.
There’s built-in suspense in the ups and downs of any sports movie, something that explains the ongoing appeal of this or that sport — the idea that “anything can happen” in the one entertainment we all partake in that isn’t scripted.
The trouble with “Hood River” is that it feels scripted and pre-ordained, even if it isn’t.
Rating: unrated, profanity
Cast: Domingo “Mingo” Barraga, Jaime Rivera, Saul Chavarria, Angel Sonato and Erik Siekkinen
Credits: Directed by Steven Cantor and Jonathan Field. A Gravitas Ventures release.
Running time: 1:21