Movie Review: Medora (2013, Dir. Davy Rothbart and Andrew Cohn)

Medora 2013 Documentary Review

Medora, directed by Davy Rothbart and Andrew Cohn is a documentary portrait of a small town going through big changes, told in a meaningful way from the perspective of the local high school basketball team. The Medora Hornets are technically the worst team in Indiana. Their goal is to try to win just one game during the 2012 school year. The kids don’t like their reputation and the fact that they haven’t won a game in several years, but ironically feel helpless to change it. Meanwhile, the town of Medora itself is a shadow of the promising stone-factory-fed community that once was. One local, upon being asked how she would describe Medora to someone unfamiliar with it, simply responds, “closed.”

The journey of the Hornets to break their losing streak lies on a road fractured by decay and the impending demise of this and similar towns as the state scrambles through recession by consolidating the rural areas and schools. This means that tiny Medora High, one of the smallest schools left, must compete with recently consolidated schools that boast a student body at least six times bigger with a much greater pool of skilled ball players from which to choose. The players themselves are often drifting through substance abuse-fueled turmoil in their home lives, and they feel this team is the only thing they have (that, and weekend carousals).

The community of Medora, what’s left of it, sees the impending annexing of the high school as a final nail in this small town’s coffin. Without the team, Medora’s last shred of identity would be gone with it. It is as if the townsfolk assumed that being part of the fiber of America would be enough to maintain their survival, but as the economy sinks into crisis so does their sense of self.

Medora shows what is really lost when progress (or in this case recession,) throws a community into metamorphosis. The future is unclear, and nothing can be trusted. Many see this as a sinking ship that needs to be abandoned, and in a way, it’s true. The fantasy of a real life Hoosiers is shattered as we see the true face of this climate, which is more Gummo than anything else. This isn’t a portrait of a dying town; it’s a eulogy. In the midst of economic turmoil any option to survive is a viable option. It’s sad that small town America will soon be swallowed up by suburban America, but what other choice is there? In a way the American landscape is starting fresh. Medora may not last, but whatever it becomes might, and that is what is most important.

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