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Tigerbelles Documentary Has Legs

NASHVILLE—Mr. Temple and the Tigerbelles, a new documentary written and directed by Academy Award Nominee and Emmy winning filmmaker Tom Neff, has enjoyed considerable public exposure over the past year. The 40 minute film began its distribution life with a primetime network premiere on CBS Sports Network, as well as a screenings at the Santa Monica Nuart Theatre, TSU (TN State University), the HollyShort Film Festival at the famed Chinese Mann Theatre in Los Angeles, the Nashville Public Library introduced by Congressman Jim Cooper. The documentary had a sold out screening — attended by four Tigerbelle gold medalists, former Lt. Governor Crit Luallen, Louisville City Mayor, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist David Maraniss, Dr. Edwina Temple — covered by AP and national press, followed by another sold out screening at the new Tennessee State Museum . The film was shortlisted for Best Short Documentary by the International Documentary Association (IDA), s one of the top documentaries of the year and qualified for entry into the Oscar competition. At the Cleveland International Film Festival, Mr. Temple and the Tigerbelles won Honorable Mention as the 2nd best short documentary in the festival and was recently accepted in the Martha’s Vineyard African American Film Festival, the most prestigious African American festival in the country, sponsored by Michelle Obama and Spike Lee, among others.


The film will be aired exclusively on May 7, 2019 in primetime 7:00 PM, on the Tennessee regional PBS station NPT, and will be featured again in August, 2019 as part of NPT’s fundraising campaign.


Mr. Temple and the Tigerbelles is the story of legendary track and field TSU (Tennessee State University) coach Ed Temple and the incredible group of 40 African American female athletes who broke the color barrier of the Olympics during the Jim Crow era. The Tigerbelles snagged 23 medals, 16 of them gold; the most renowned Tigerbelle was Wilma Rudolph, who in Rome 1960 became the first American woman to win three gold medals in one Olympic. Not only did they excel in track, but 100 percent of the Tigerbelles graduated, many going on to receive Masters and Doctorates.


The documentary is sponsored by HCA Healthcare, The Metropolitan Government of Nashville & Davidson County and Nashville Convention & Visitors Corporation, and John R. Ingram Advised Fund at the Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee.
The documentary, over 2 ½ years in the making, was a labor of love by all involved. “The first time I saw the promo for the film, I knew this was a story that had to be told,” says Shelley Hay, Co-Producer of the film, “These amazing women struggled through untold adversity to world success.” Bo Roberts, chairman of the team to raise funds for the new statue of Coach Temple now at the Bicentennial Mall next to the upcoming new Tennessee State Museum, also put his efforts to raising funds for the documentary, along with Howard Gentry and Christie Hauck. “People don’t realize what a treasure they have in their own backyard,” says Mr. Roberts, “Coach Temple is probably the most important coach in American history.”


The documentary boasts extremely rare footage of the Tigerbelles, as well as a stellar cast of interviewees, including Pulitzer Prize winning author David Maraniss, whose many books includes the critically acclaimed Rome 1960: The Olympics That Changed the World. Nashville historians Dwight Lewis and Linda Wynn give important historical context to the documentary, which places the successes of the Tigerbelles firmly in the fomenting era of the civil rights era. “They could win gold medals at the Olympics, on a world stage, and yet come back home and not be able to eat in a restaurant,” says Mr. Gentry, whose own father was the TSU football coach from 1949 – 1960 and Director of Athletics at TSU from 1961 – 1976, and was very close to Coach Temple. “Wilma Rudolph used to babysit for me, so we were a very close family,” continued Mr. Gentry.


Mr. Temple and the Tigerbelles shows how the young women of TSU struggled to practice with no financial aid, no support, and during the Jim Crow era. “Coach Temple was given $300 and two station wagons and told to go compete against the world,” says Mr. Lewis, now finishing his own book on the Tigerbelles.


“The more we got into the story, the more pressure we put on ourselves to tell it in an innovative way,” says Mr. Neff, an Assistant Professor who teaches film, documentaries and media management at the MTSU (Middle Tennessee State University) College of Media & Entertainment. “So many people contributed to the film. Students and faculty at MTSU either donated time or worked for very little pay. The editor, Barry Rubinow, did a stunning job of combining the footage from the Olympics with footage from the civil rights era, as well as footage from the Tigerbelles who still run today for Tennessee State University (TSU).”


MTSU Department of Media Arts Chairman Billy Pittard comments that “This interdisciplinary approach to independent faculty projects is one of the things that truly distinguishes our program. Every department in College of Media & Entertainment contributed to Mr. Temple and the Tigerbelles: students worked on production, RIM faculty member Matt Foglia mixed the film, Animation faculty member Richard Lewis was Digital Effects Artist, Mike Forbes contributed technical expertise, and it goes on and on.” “We are interested in reaching a national audience, and with the CBS Sports Network television premiere, and the festival outreach of this film, we are achieving our goals,” added Mr. Pittard. “This was an important story to tell for Black History Month,” says Emilie Deutsch, CBS Sports Network VP, Original Programming & Features.


“We are entering the film into festivals, but wanted the people of Nashville to see a preview first. We are so thrilled to have every gold medal Olympian able to attend the screening, as well as Ralph Boston, who won the gold medal for broad jump the same year that Wilma Rudolf and Muhammad Ali won their 1960 Rome Olympic gold medals,” comments Ms. Hay. Mr. Roberts notes that, “We will sell DVD’s of the film, with a significant portion of sales going to the Ed Temple Scholarship Fund, and the Ed Temple Wing of New Hope Academy. We want to continue the legacy of this historic group.”

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