Documentary comes out of ‘Left Field’

By Evan Minsker

The first line in the trailer for Left Field says it all: This isn’t a feel-good documentary about kickball.

“You get to tear s–t up,” said the first of the trailer’s talking heads.

Left Field, a documentary about Chicago’s unofficial kickball league, will premiere at a screening on Feb. 26 at the Portage Park Theatre, 4050 N. Milwaukee Ave. The film was directed by Columbia adjunct film instructor Ben Steger.

Steger and his producer, Chris Batte, began the project during the summer of 2006, originally intending for it to be a short film.  Steger said the short would have been 10 or 15 minutes long, focusing on one or two teams and a small portion of the season.

After getting all the interviews he needed, Steger hit an unfortunate obstacle. Someone broke into his apartment and stole his camera, which still had all the interview tapes on it. Steger said he was distraught, but the situation gave him time to re-evaluate the project.

“In thinking about the project over the winter, I decided, ‘I think there’s a deeper film there,'” he said. “And I told [Batte],  ‘Let’s go ahead and shoot the whole summer season of 2007 and let’s go for a feature film.'”

Steger and Batte shot the entire 2007 season and a small portion of the 2008 season. What they got was a less-than-ordinary documentary.

“When I was thinking of tag lines for the film, one of the lines I came up with was, ‘The most unathletic sports film of all time,'” Steger said.

Even in the trailer of the film, obscenities aren’t held back. The league isn’t comprised of a bunch of cordial athletes in uniforms with politically correct post-game rhetoric.

“[The league is] a combination of geeks and party-animals and artists and musicians and bar-flies,” Steger said. “I don’t think the majority of them were jocks back in high school.”

That’s not to say, however, that the league is comprised of “deviants” out for each other’s blood.

“It kind of just started out as something to do on a Sunday afternoon to kill some time with my friends, and it just escalated to this huge love-in,” said Jill Hopkins, who plays for the league. “It’s really the most fun I’ve ever had.”

Steger also hinted that while the film is full of “characters,” the film is also a bit of a “tear-jerker.”

Batte decided to host the first screening of the film in the city before premiering it anywhere else.  Although it’s an opportunity for the general public to see the film, he is happy to have the league there as a big portion of the first audience.

“The screening, more than anything, is for the community that it’s about,” Batte said. “I think it’s going to be a very emotional night for a lot of people.”

In addition to being for the community, the screening is also by the community. Members of the league will be performing prior to the film’s screening. Performances include the Lowdown Brass Band, a go-go dancing troupe called The Janes, performance artists and comedian Chad Briggs. The event will be deejayed by Hopkins.

“It’s just going to be a great big party,” Hopkins said. “It’s not just going to be a bunch of people showing up and watching a movie and leaving.”

With Left Field finally in the can, Steger said he is proud of his work.

“I think the film is honest,” Steger said. “I hope other people will enjoy it. I wanted to get it out to an audience and hopefully it’ll resonate with them.”

Left Field will be screened on Feb. 26 at Portage Park Theatre, 4050 N. Milwaukee Ave., at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $9.99.