Like the teenagers they chronicle in their Oscar-winning documentary Undefeated, directors Dan Lindsay and T.J. Martin weren't expected to emerge as winners. The two were up against some formidable competition on Oscar night, from their fellow nominees Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky's Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory and Wim Wenders' Pina. If their reaction seemed jubilant and surprised, it was. That might explain the "F-bomb" not heard round the world.

Undefeated chronicles the final season from volunteer coach Bill Courtney at Manassas High School in North Memphis, Tenn. Courtney, who's white, leads a once seemingly hopeless squad of primarily African-American players to a winning season. Having been abandoned by his father at age eight, he understands his players because many of them don't have fathers in their lives. It also helps him motivate the players on and off the field, even when the economically depressed community comes dangerously close to swallowing them home.

If the win-loss ration in Undefeated seems impressive, the film becomes moving because Courtney and his compatriots also help the team members conquer some of their inner demons. Early in the season, fights break out before the players can even watch tapes of previous games. Watching these guys grow into stable, mature men is even more moving than seeing them clobber opponents on the field.

I spoke with the filmmakers on the Tuesday after the Oscars, when they were on their way to present the movie at the True/False Documentary Film Festival in Columbia, Mo. The film had first gained attention at South by Southwest. According to what they told me, simply making the list there was victory enough.

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categories Movies