A Locker Room Story

06 January 2012

The 1994 film "Hoop Dreams", arguably one of the best documentaries ever produced, has done more for the sports and film industries than meets the eye.

It marked the beginning of an era where filmmakers would follow sports personalities in an up close and personal manner, to offer fans a unique perspective of life on and off the court.

In Europe numerous National Federations have tried to capture on film their team's campaign at a EuroBasket or a World Championship, either producing on their own or by giving their blessings to more bold and ambitious projects, usually initiated by one of the country's broadcasters.

Still from the Belgian documentary "A Locker Room Story"
Still from the Belgian documentary "A Locker Room Story"

The latest in the series of such docs comes from Belgium. 

"A Locker Room Story", by producer-director Johan Dirkx and Robin Vandenbergh, is a fly-on-the-wall chronicle of the Belgian Lions' struggles at EuroBasket 2011.

The film follows the team from the very beginning of their campaign - their first appearance in a EuroBasket Finals in 18 years -spinning "a unique tale of hope, loss, frustration and pride."

The film was produced by Prime/Telenet and premiered on Belgian TV (Sporting Telenet) on Boxing Day. caught up with producer and director Johan Dirkx. How did the idea come about to do such a documentary and what were the expectations?

DIRKX: We always wanted to do a behind-the-scenes sports documentary. And when the Belgian Lions [Belgium's National Team] qualified for the EuroBasket, we contacted them.  There was a sort of example with ‘Les yeux dans les bleus', a French documentary about football. But the approach was completely different from the French one, because in our case we knew Belgium had no chance to win the [EuroBasket] title...  

Basketball isn't the most popular sport in Belgium (cycling and football are more popular), and with this film we'd like to give this sport a human face.  My personal goal is to make basketball more popular in Belgium. Were there any obstacles in shooting such a doc?

DIRKX: The most difficult part is getting the permissions to film everywhere. On the team level we had a wonderful experience with the Belgian Lion manager Jacques Ledure. After a tough negotiation a mutual respect and confidence developed between us.

Then we shot for weeks and weeks the team's practices.  We knew we couldn't use this material, but by doing this - living in the same rhythm as the team - we got a strong connection with the players before EuroBasket even started. How did the public and the team reacted to the theatre sneak preview premiere in early December?

DIRKX: For the public this is a new concept. It's the first time they find themselves so close with the players, they live their emotions;  they almost smell their sweat. After the premiere, the public was overwhelmed.

For the players it was different. It was hard for them to relive all those strong emotions. For me as a director, it was important that they judged the film as being respectful to them. Well, big relief: they did! They were really emotional after seeing the result. If you had the chance would you film it again?

DIRKX: Hell no! [Laughing] of course, I would do it again! Since my wife is Spanish and my heart goes to France, I would consider following one of those two teams for my second sports documentary. With a happy ending this time round...



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