The Rapidian

Michigan filmmakers explore reality of small town life

Michigan natives Davy Rothbart and Andrew Cohn bring their film Medora to Grand Rapids, which follows the lives of four high school boys from the poverty stricken town of Medora.
The Medora Hornets basketball team

The Medora Hornets basketball team /Courtesy of MedoraFilm

See the film

Medora Official Website

Medora Official Trailer

UICA Showtimes:

  • Thursday, December 12- 8:00 p.m.
  • Friday, December 13- 8:00 p.m.  (Q&A with Davy Rothbar and Andrew Cohn)
  • Saturday, December 14- 3:00, 8:00 p.m.
  • Sunday, December 15- 3:00 p.m.
  • No showings Monday
  • Tuesday, December 17- 8:00 p.m.
  • Wednesday, December 18- 8:00 p.m.
  • Thursday, December 19- 8:00 p.m.
Medora filmmakers Andrew Cohn and Davy Rothbart

Medora filmmakers Andrew Cohn and Davy Rothbart /Courtesy of MedoraFilm

On December 13, the documentary "Medora" comes to the Urban Institute for Contemporary Art. The film’s directors, Michigan natives Davy Rothbart and Andrew Cohn will be present for a question and answer session that night.

The film follows the Medora Hornets, a small town high school basketball team in Indiana with a 0-22 losing streak. Davy Rothbart, a writer and filmmaker, was inspired to produce the film after reading an article in the New York Times about the team.

“We just thought it would be an incredible idea for a documentary,” says Cohn, co-director of "Medora." “Initially it was just from the sports angle of a team that never wins, especially in a basketball crazed state like Indiana. Once we got to the town we just immediately got this feeling… it felt like we had gone back in time.”

"Medora" begins as the story of a team that can’t win but quickly becomes the story of the players themselves and the challenges they face growing up in a town stricken by the collapse of the American manufacturing industry.

“There’s the story of the team and the story of the town but at the center of it, it’s really about these four boys that we follow,” says Cohn. “Our approach was always that we wanted to show what was happening in towns like Medora but we wanted to show it through characters. We didn’t want talking heads talking about the town; we wanted people to feel like they were experiencing what it’s like to live in a small town like that through these characters eyes.”

To get the story, Rothbart and Cohn spent eight months living in Medora, becoming a fixture in the community.

“It took a lot of time. You don’t just walk in and get people to open up their lives to you,” says Cohn. "There were people that didn’t know what to make of it because the New York Times article had brought a lot of attention to the town. They were a little bit wary but once they got to know Davy and I as people, they got to know that we weren’t some Hollywood guys who had come to sensationalize their story.”

Both Rothbart and Cohn grew up in Ann Arbor, Michigan, but Cohn spent his summers in the small town of Earl Park, Indiana with his mother. His uncle owned the only bar in the town and he lived with family that made their living as farmers. It is this experience that tempered Cohn’s camera work and directing sensibilities, enabling him to capture the lives of his subjects without sensationalizing their living situations.

“Both of my parents are from Indiana originally so that’s not a new world to me. And in Ann Arbor, you go 20 minutes outside of Ann Arbor and there are towns just like Medora all across Michigan. The kids that we followed are like the kids I went to high school with, so it’s not a huge shift for me,” says Cohn. 

Cohn hopes the film showcases the challenges that small towns like Medora are facing. He believes his film offers something different, and that unlike other documentaries about high school, "Medora" will be relatable.

“Most documentaries are about high school experiences that none of us have. I feel like this movie is about most people’s high school experience- which is getting caught drinking, homecoming [and] the little victories in life. I hope that this film captures what it’s like for most people especially in a town like Medora,” says Cohn. “I hope people think about what value these small towns have to our country. I know that they have value, and they are fading away.”

"Medora" will play at the UICA from December 12 to December 19, and is premiering nationwide this year. 

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