Just 79 miles down I-65 South from Indianapolis lies a small town called Medora. Population: 693. Bookended by Seymour and Bedford, it’s home to the largest covered bridge in America and an annual syrup festival. It is also the subject of a new documentary hitting Indianapolis theaters this week, Medora, about the local high school’s basketball team, the hapless Hornets.
A New York Times article by Pulitzer Prize winner John Branch about the Hornets catalyzed in directors Andrew Cohn and Davy Rothbart a desire to want to make Medora. When the article was published in 2009, the team had the worst record in the state. In that 2008-2009 school year, they went 0-22.
Cohn and Rothbart knew they had to make a documentary about this town that had seen far better days, and a team that had seen better records. “I didn’t set out to make a film about small-town Indiana,” Cohn says. “It just sort of happened.”
They spent a year exploring the town, getting to know its residents, attending basketball games, and working to receive the approval necessary to begin filming.
Now, the film chronicles the 2010-2011 basketball season at Medora High School as seen through the eyes of four teenage boys. From hanging out at their houses to interviewing their families, Cohn and Rothbart did everything they could to get to know these kids.
“At first I didn’t know what to think,” Zack Fish, a former Hornet team member, says about Cohn and Rothbart showing up in their town. “I thought it was someone else from The New York Times and I was like, ‘Okay, here we go again …’” While many of the boys from the Hornets disliked their portrayal in the Times article, they ended up becoming much more open with the two directors, who themselves hail from smaller towns.
“For me it felt like I was coming home,” Cohn says.
Cohn actually has his own Hoosier roots. Though he was raised in Michigan, his mother grew up in a town smaller than Medora, Earl Park (population: 348), northwest of Lafayette. She now lives in Indianapolis.
His dad is also from Indiana, and both his parents attended IU in Bloomington.
Granted permission to begin making their movie just two weeks before the 2010-2011 season started, Cohn and Rothbart picked up and moved from where they lived in Ann Arbor, Mich., to spend a year in Medora. Six hundred hours of footage later, the duo and a team of editors have an 82-minute film that Cohn says is all about identity.
“A lot of these towns, the school is the center of the community, so the basketball team is part of the identity of the town,” Cohn says.
The film is being screened over the next few months at more than a dozen movie theaters across the country, though Cohn notes they’ve received a lot of positive feedback from Hoosiers who have already watched the documentary and are excited to screen the film officially in Medora’s home state this week.
“We always thought the basketball team was the central metaphor for the town,” Cohn says. “We wanted to show the experience of living in a town like Medora through the eyes of these four kids.”
Medora. Indiana State Museum IMAX Theater, 650 W. Washington St., 317-233-4629. Premieres Nov. 22, 7 p.m. Showtimes continue through Nov. 29. imax.com. Also screening at IU Cinema, 1213 E. 7th St. Bloomington, 812-855-7632. Nov. 21–24, cinema.indiana.edu. Film website medorafilm.com.