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Insightful documentary South Football’s Impossible Dream screens at the 2023 New Jersey Film Festival on Saturday, February 25!


By Al Nigrin

originally published: 02/20/2023

Insightful documentary South Football’s Impossible Dream screens at the 2023 New Jersey Film Festival on Saturday, February 25!

Sandra Levine’s insightful documentary South Football’s Impossible Dream screens at the Spring 2023 New Jersey Film Festival on Saturday, February 25!  In 1968, Toms Rivers High School Football Coach Signorino challenged his players to believe in “The Impossible Dream” and they responded by delivering an undefeated season, 9-0. Toms River South had racked up a 19-game winning streak by the time the Hitting Indians faced the Middletown Lions, ranked No. 2, in a 1969 mythical state championship. A crowd, estimated at 10,000, gathered in South’s stadium on a bitterly cold November day to watch the two teams battle. Footage unearthed from the vaults of “The Greatest Game” and other matchups in the 1960s will be shown for the first time in more than five decades. This documentary film explores techniques used by legendary Toms River Coach Ron Signorino, Sr., to turn a losing high school football program in the mid-1960s, into a powerhouse, ranked No. 1 in the state.

Here is my interview with South Football’s Impossible Dream Director Sandra Levine:

Nigrin:  Your insightful documentary film South Football’s Impossible Dream focuses on legendary Toms River Football team Coach Ron Signorino, Sr., and how he turned a losing high school football program in the mid-1960s into a New Jersey powerhouse.  Tell us what motivated you to make this film.

Levine:   I am always intrigued by people who devote decades of their lives to a singular pursuit. In 2018, I produced a film on a legendary coach who is the winningest high school baseball coach in New Jersey, and still coaching into his 70s. Some people familiar with that film, mentioned the idea of taking a look at Ron Signorino, Sr., and his high school football coaching career of more than 50 years. I hesitated at first, because I had not planned on doing another project involving sports. But as I began doing my research, it became clear that this coach profoundly influenced his players. They learned about discipline, responsibility, and mental toughness, lessons that served them well throughout their entire lives. I was surprised and moved by the fact that those men, now in their 70s, held onto their helmets, varsity jackets, and scrapbooks from their days playing high school football. The impact of the coach’s devotion to the game and his players drew me into the project. Also, the film focuses on one particular game in 1969 known at the Jersey Shore as “The Greatest Game Ever Played.” Toms River South, ranked No. 1 in the state, battled Middletown, ranked No. 2. After doing extensive research, it appeared that while numerous newspaper articles had been written, a piece had not been done that included the game film footage. So, I was excited to do a story that had never been done before—one that would show the infamous game publicly for the first time.



 
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Nigrin:  There is some really terrific archival footage that is part of your documentary. Tell us more about how you secured these moving images and how they came to be in your film.

Levine:   Finding enough of the right film footage was one of the most difficult parts of the project. The film focuses on two particular seasons from more than 50 years ago—1968 and 1969. The coach had a very large trunk full of 16 mm game films, but they were from throughout his entire career, and there were only a couple of films from the late 1960s. It was critical to find footage of the Toms River South versus Middletown game. When the coach’s son searched through the trunk, the very last reel he looked at was part of that important game. Apparently, the second reel had been borrowed years ago by a player, and was destroyed in flooding during Superstorm Sandy. I knew the moment that one reel was located that we had struck gold, and that I would be able to make a good movie. I also had a former player from Utah, who heard about the project by chance, mail me two reels of game footage—material that turned out to be a very important part of the story.

Nigrin:  Was it hard to track down all the players that were on Coach Ron Signorino, Sr.’s 1960s teams for the interviews? Tell us about this process.

Levine:   Tracking down the right players to interview also involved a lot of research. Over time, the same names kept coming up—always a good sign. Some of the former players are still in New Jersey, others traveled here from out of state for their interviews. One important former player currently lives in Canada, 2,500 miles away. I hired a crew in Canada to shoot that interview for me while I was hooked up via the internet to ask questions. The players all gave very good interviews. The challenge was whittling down many, many hours of footage in order to create a cohesive story.

Nigrin:  Are there any memorable stories while you made this film or any other info about your film you would like to relay to us?

Levine:   Creating the film took almost two years from start to finish. I was grateful that I was able to find some great game footage, and that a photographer allowed me to use some of his black and white stills of the Middletown game. Still, I was disappointed that I did not have original sound from any game, despite efforts to find old radio broadcasts. (Sound was not recorded on the 16 mm game films.) Very late in the process, when I was ready to put the film to bed, a former player handed me a reel-to-reel audiotape. Even though the label listed games that were not useful to me, I had a gut feeling that I should digitize the tape anyway. It turned out the box was mislabeled and indeed the tape was a radio broadcast of an important game in 1969. I worked hard to incorporate some of that audio into the film, even though the deadline to complete the film was looming. The discovery of this audio was like striking gold again; the radio broadcast adds to the film’s authenticity, and helps keep the audience engaged right through the credits. Obtaining funding to produce a project is always one of the biggest challenges for independent filmmakers. I was fortunate to have been able to work with the New Jersey Media Arts Center, Inc., that served as the film’s fiscal sponsor. Working with NJMAC enables a filmmaker to raise funds from foundations and other organizations that limit giving to nonprofits.  Funding for this project was provided by The Applegate Family Foundation.

South Football’s Impossible Dream screens at the Spring 2023 New Jersey Film Festival on Saturday, February 25. The film will be Online for 24 Hours on its showdate and In-Person at 5PM in Voorhees Hall #105/Rutgers University, 71 Hamilton Street, New Brunswick, NJ. To buy tickets go here:  

https://watch.eventive.org/newjerseyfilmfestivalspring2023/play/63c80e907248cb00ead4571f

For General Info on the Film Festival go here:  


https://newjerseyfilmfestivalspring2023.eventive.org/welcome



Albert Gabriel Nigrin is an award-winning experimental media artist whose work has been screened on all five continents. He is also a Cinema Studies Lecturer at Rutgers University, and the Executive Director/Curator of the Rutgers Film Co-op/New Jersey Media Arts Center, Inc.


 
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