Cleveland sports fans have buried their hearts at Municipal Stadium and suffered shock at the Coliseum. Following the Browns, Indians and Cavaliers requires the optimism of a child and the intestinal fortitude of a longshoreman. But for some reason, we can’t stop.
Devotion in the face of such a lengthy championship drought will be the subject of an ESPN Films’ 30 for 30 documentary directed by Akron native Kris Belman, who lives in Los Angeles but still bleeds for Cleveland.
“There’s a rich and complex sports history there, and it’s a story I’ve always wanted to tell,” he says. “This is very, very personal to me.”
The 33-year-old Belman, a graduate of Walsh Jesuit High School, directed the 2009 documentary More Than a Game, which went behind the scenes of LeBron James’ St. Vincent-St. Mary High School basketball teams. He is working on the ESPN film with Gary Cohen, who also produced the cable sports network’s documentary on infamous Cubs’ fan Steve Bartman, as well as producer Brian Joe and Northeast Ohio native and associate producer Jimmy Costigan.
Maybe most heartening to Clevelanders is that Belman says he plans to push past the cliches that so often define the national media’s coverage of the city’s sports history. “A lot of people have an initial reaction that this will be a woe-is-me film,” says Belman. “We’ve all seen that misery montage on ESPN, but I’m going to look at this from all angles.”
The film will explore what has often been an intense interaction between the fans, the players and the city itself. The documentary is scheduled for a 2014 release and will coincide with the 50th anniversary of Cleveland’s last title, when the Browns whipped the Baltimore Colts, 27-0, to claim the NFL Championship. “It’s fascinating exploring how these teams mirror the city,” he says. “It’s that blue-collar attitude of going through adversity and coming out on the other side.”
The project is currently in its developmental stage, and Belman has a rough-cut deadline of February. “We will definitely be in town filming during football season,” he says. “The film will cover a lot of each team’s history and the backstories that connect to a main narrative.”
Former and current players will be interviewed along with long-suffering fans, who can submit their personal stories by emailing Belman at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“It’s amazing how inspired I’ve become after hearing all these real-life stories,” he says. “We’re looking for something that’s deeper than what happened on the field. The thing that’s coming up the most is family and how being a fan is passed down from generation to generation.”
The film will also delve into fans’ willingness to believe despite the half-century dry spell. “It’s like being left at the altar three, four or five times,” says Belman. “People out here [in LA] adopt teams. You don’t just pick and choose, that’s not in my fiber. I’ve never met anyone here from Cleveland who pulls for the Lakers or Clippers.”
Belman has spent years developing the idea for the film, but when ESPN expressed interest “things went from the back burner to the front burner pretty quickly,” he says.
“This could be a six-hour movie, but I have to cover it all in an hour and a half,” he says. “For me, this is a balancing act between being a fan and a director. The thing I care most about is that Clevelanders will relate to it.”