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(Gabe Polsky’s latest documentary, The Search for Greatness, is on Amazon Prime now. Like what you see here on Hammer to Nail? Why not pay just $1.00 per month via Patreon to help keep us going?)

What makes for a great athlete? Is it in the DNA, a matter of training, or some combination of both? These are the questions tackled by director Gabe Polsky (Red Army) in his latest documentary In Search of Greatness, which profiles a number of famous sports titans to investigate the secret to their success. From soccer superstar Pelé to hockey legend Wayne Gretzky to football giant Jerry Rice – the main subjects, with many more peripheral players – Polsky takes the viewer on a journey through the how and why of their careers, asking what others might do to mimic their triumphal streaks.

A funny thing happens on the way to the end, however, which is the discovery that the more one tries to match what those who have come before have done, the less one might succeed on one’s own. Certain truths are nevertheless timeless, best encapsulated in the following two necessities: a “rage to master” and an ability to learn quickly. In other words, to achieve greatness (in whatever area), one needs to be passionate about the subject/sport/field, and have the skill to learn within that given subject/sport/field. Gretzky, for example, was neither physically imposing nor particularly fast, yet dominated his generation of hockey players because, as a child, he was self-motivated to practice, practice, practice and was lucky enough to have an aptitude for the sport. Interestingly, he was not initially devoted solely to hockey, enjoying many other games before finally settling on the one that would define his life.

Rice, as well, did not take to his own sport right away; his mother didn’t want him to play football in high school, believing it was too violent. And though he was fast enough, as a runner, others were faster. What led him down his own path to distinction was a natural discipline and a brain that could map the trajectory of the ball as it flew through the air. Pelé also started young, following in his father’s footsteps, but spent as much time in unstructured childhood play as in team workouts. Indeed, imposed regimentation – according to this movie’s protagonists and experts, anyway – seems to be the kiss of death to the mastery of the kind of improvisation that the great players need to achieve … greatness.

Pelé, Gretzky and Rice make for very engaging primary subjects, but I wish there were even more. Folks like John McEnroe, Tom Brady, Venus and Serena Williams and others appear on screen, too, but only as secondary characters, talked about but not directly represented. The film would be richer with their first-hand input. I also didn’t understand why Polsky kept putting up interstitial cards with the words of British philosopher Alan Watts. The first one worked, but later the device felt forced. Finally, there is simply too much distracting camera movement within the interviews, themselves, which are otherwise beautifully photographed. I’m all for a roving camera, but better one that brings added value to the image, rather than stripping it away through manic frenzy. Those caveats aside, In Search of Greatness is extremely watchable and a strong tribute to the athletes at its center.

– Christopher Llewellyn Reed (@ChrisReedFilm)

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Christopher Llewellyn Reed is a film critic, filmmaker, and educator. A member of both the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA) and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, he is: lead film critic at Hammer to Nail; editor at Film Festival Today; formerly the host of the award-winning Reel Talk with Christopher Llewellyn Reed, from Dragon Digital Media; and the author of Film Editing: Theory and Practice. In addition, he is one of the founders and former cohosts of The Fog of Truth, a podcast devoted to documentary cinema.

  • Stephen Kent

    I’m writing to propose you consider “The Story of Plastic,” a new film by Deia Schlossberg which will be shown at DOC NYC on November 9, for your curtain-raiser and/or a review. It will do for the plastic crisis what Josh Fox’s GASLAND series did for the fracking issue: blow it open.

    I do public interest issue and environmental PR for non-profits and advocates (which is why I’m helping with select pitching of the film), and thought I knew a fair amount about the fossil fuel industry, global supply chains and plastic pollution. But this film taught me jaw-dropping things I did not know, e.g. about the gaming of the plastic recycling system, how the deep entanglement between plastic and the petroleum industry stokes emissions and climate change; how as demand for fracked gas energy falls the gas gets channeled into increased plastic production; how targeting lower income people in developing countries with cheap, single use sachets is taking plastic pollution to a new level, and building up to an appalling degree not only in the ocean gyres, but as the film shows, over much of the developing world.

    It’s also well crafted as a film, with compelling people and information, and “Story of Stuff” graphics that make these complex issues intuitive, memorable, and solvable for the viewer.

    You are cordially invited to the DOC NYC screening, Saturday, November 9 at the IFC Center on Sixth Avenue at West Third Street. If you think you can get there, RSVP to me and I’ll confirm a comp ticket. If you can’t, I urge you to watch the film and will send you a vimeo link to screen it if you ping me back.

    You can also talk to film subjects and members of the production team if it’s helpful. There’s a list of them below, just after some short material describing the film. Let me know how I can be helpful, and thanks for considering “The Story of Stuff” for a curtain-raiser or other coverage.


    Steve Kent
    KentCom LLC

    The Story of Plastic is a seething expose, uncovering the ugly truth behind the current global plastic pollution crisis. Different from every other plastic documentary you’ve seen, The Story of Plastic presents a cohesive timeline from the point of extraction to plastic disposal and highlights solutions and the international network heroes working on combating this urgent problem. Shot all over the world, the film is directed by award-winning filmmaker (Backyard) Deia Shlosberg.

    The Story of Plastic reveals the oil and gas industry’s shocking agenda to dramatically increase worldwide plastic production. Driven by cheap American fracked gas, the plastic industry is aggressively investing in new facilities to produce exponentially more single-use plastic. As much as the producers would like to put responsibility on the consumers, plastic production and pollution is not about demand- it’s about supply, and the supply is exploding. The Story of Plastic will not only change viewers’ lives but will fuel a worldwide movement.

    Presented by The Story Of Stuff Project in association with React Films, with original music by Mike McCready (Pearl Jam), directed by Deia Schlosberg.


    The Story of Plastic is a part of the #BreakFreeFromPlastics movement, a coalition of 1500 NGOs and organizations working with a unified strategy to end plastic pollution. Outreach partners include Greenpeace, Center For International Environmental Law, Plastic Solution Coalition, Surfrider, Kleen Kanteen and The Plastic Pollutions Fund.


    Deia Schlosberg (New York City, NY) made national news in October 2016, when she was arrested and charged with 45 years’ worth of felonies for filming the #ShutItDown pipeline protest in North Dakota. Deia produced Josh Fox’s climate change film, How to Let Go of the World and Love All the Things Climate Can’t Change (Sundance/HBO). Deia also co-produced Awake, A Dream from Standing Rock (Tribeca/Netflix), and The Reluctant Radical, and she co-directed and produced Cold Love. Her short film, Backyard, a look at the human impacts of fracking, won two student Emmys (Best Documentary, Bricker Humanitarian Award). She also won the National Geographic Adventurer of The Year Award for hiking 7800 miles across the Andes.

    Link: Film Teaser
    Link: Film Website

    Award: Audience Favorite, Active Cinema. Mill Valley Film Festival

    Award: Deia Schlosberg, 40 Under 40. DOC NYC

    Film subjects and members of the production team who will attend the DOC NYC screening are generally available for interviews:


    Carroll Muffett (President, Center for International Environmental Law)
    Carroll Muffett (Washington, D.C., United States) is President of the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL), a nonprofit organization that uses the power of law to protect the environment, promote human rights, and ensure a just and sustainable society. He is a recognized expert on international environmental law and a leader in the emerging fields of climate litigation and climate-related financial and legal risks. Carroll is lead researcher on CIEL’s Smoke and Fumes investigation into the deep history of oil industry engagement on climate science. He is co-author of CIEL’s Fueling Plastics series, which examines the linkages between fossil fuels and the global plastics crisis. He is an editor and contributing author to CIEL’s Hidden Cost of Plastics series: Plastics & Health and Plastics and Climate. Carroll is a member of the Commission on Environmental Law of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and serves on the Board of Trustees for the Climate Accountability Institute.He is co-editor with Carl Bruch and Sandra Nichols of Governance, Natural Resources and Post-Conflict Peacebuilding (Routledge, 2016).

    Elise Gerhart
    For nearly two years, Elise and her mother Ellen Gerhart resisted the seizure of their land through eminent domain for the construction of a natural gas pipeline by Energy Transfer Partners. The Mariner 2 East pipeline transports liquified natural gas from shale fields in Western Pennsylvania to a port for shipment to a facility in Scotland to be turned into virgin plastic. Elise, Ellen, and other activists formed Camp White Pine to resist the pipeline, conducting tree sits and other direct actions to delay construction. Elise and the other activists faced threats, intimidation, and arrest by local police and private security firms hired by ETP, which was ultimately successful in seizing their land and constructing the pipeline.


    Deia Schlosberg (Director/Producer)
    Deia Schlosberg (DIRECTOR/PRODUCER) made national news in October, 2016, when she was arrested and charged with 45 years’ worth of felonies for filming the #ShutItDown pipeline protest in North Dakota. Deia produced Josh Fox’s climate change film, How to Let Go of the World and Love All the Things Climate Can’t Change (Sundance/HBO). Deia also co-produced Awake, A Dream from Standing Rock (Tribeca/Netflix), and The Reluctant Radical (2018). Deia also co-directed and produced Cold Love. Her short film, Backyard, a look at the human impacts of fracking, won two student Emmys (Best Documentary, Bricker Humanitarian Award)

    Stiv Wilson (Executive Producer)
    Stiv Wilson (EXECUTIVE PRODUCER/PRODUCER) is a waste and plastic pollution expert who is frequently asked to speak on solutions to the vexing inefficiencies in the materials economy all over the world. He’s created and led several campaigns to victory: from plastic bags bans, to plastic microbeads, to plastic water bottles at the state, national and international level. He has sailed over 35,000 nautical miles to four of the five oceanic ‘garbage patches,’ documenting and communicating maritime plastic pollution firsthand through publications, multi-media, and film.

    Tony Hale (Writer / Editor)
    TONY HALE (WRITER/EDITOR) is a documentary editor and filmmaker based in Brooklyn, NY. As a kid, Tony discovered a joy for editing while making music by recording percussion and mixing it with found sounds. Years later, while pursuing a Mathematics degree at Boston College and working at a media lab at Harvard University, he rediscovered that passion in film editing. Now, having worked as a documentary film editor since 2005, he continues to enjoy exploring the transformative process of editing as a way to bring the power of non-fiction stories to life. Tony’s feature-length editing work includes award-winning documentaries A WILL FOR THE WOODS(2014, co-editor/co-director), CHARGED: The Eduardo Garcia Story (2017), and AFGHAN CYCLES (2018). In addition to winning awards at festivals such as Full Frame and Seattle International, his films have screened at Hot Docs, AFI DOCS, Mountainfilm, Camden, and many more; played nationally on PBS and Al Jazeera America; and been centered in educational and grassroots screening campaigns. His short film work includes several environmental justice and conservation documentaries, an Emmy-winning TV special, and films published by The New York Times and The New Yorker.

    Brian Wilson (Writer / Editor)
    Brian Wilson (WRITER/EDITOR) cut his teeth in film and video 20 years ago, editing long-form biographical documentaries for Lifetime Television as well as news and cultural reports for Canal Plus Spain and art films for exhibition at prominent galleries. He graduated from Brown University with a degree in Comparative Literature and History and is based in Brooklyn, NY. The 2014 feature documentary he co-directed and co-edited, A WILL FOR THE WOODS, tells the story of a North Carolina man with terminal lymphoma who is determined to receive a natural burial and help save a tract of local woods from being clear-cut. The film won nine awards on the festival circuit, aired on PBS and WORLD Channel stations throughout the US, and is currently being used worldwide to inspire holistic approaches to the end of life that help restore and maintain natural areas. Brian has been honored to further the goals of numerous organizations through his editing on many shorter films, from supporting NYC public school children to responding to sea level rise to building awareness and community in the struggle against the fossil fuel industry in the Southwestern US.

    November 1, 2019
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