If you’re looking for something to take the edge off the Eagles’ recent loss to the Cowboys, consider the documentary Maybe Next Year, screening at 9:30 p.m. Saturday at the Ritz East as part of the Philadelphia Film Festival.
The movie revisits the Eagles long-shot 2017 run to the Super Bowl from the perspective of half a dozen die-hard fans — hitting a crescendo when (spoiler alert) the team beats the Patriots to win the title, to the delight and astonishment of the long-suffering Philadelphians profiled in the film.
Maybe Next Year is funny and touching, even if it’s not necessarily the film that director and Drexel grad Kyle Thrash set out to make. As the title implies, Thrash himself expected the team to finish as an also-ran.
“I was really trying to humanize these people that keep getting stigmatized in the national media. People say, look at those maniacs. The fans are known for throwing snowballs at Santa, booing players, cheering when opposing players get hurt. I wanted to explore where that passion comes from, to understand who they are as people, understand why some people have created an identity around it,” Thrash said.
He bought a pickup truck for $2,000 and started tailgating at the stadium, getting to know fans, selecting folks who could evoke the dedication and diversity of the fan base.
The research paid off. Maybe Next Year gets past the partisan surface of fan behavior and into the psychological complexities involved, abetted by the closeness Thrash and crew were able to achieve with subjects like Bryant Moreland, who gradually confides that his mania for the Eagles is a “scapegoat for his failures” and an antidote to the loneliness that defines his life.
Jesse Callsen integrates his love of the Eagles into a life that includes caring for a special-needs son and a father with cancer. We’re with Jesse and his father as the team overcomes injuries to key players and edges closer to its rendezvous with fate and Tom Brady.
There are many words to describe the Eagles’ Super Bowl victory in 2018, but “miracle” surely applies, and Maybe Next Year nods to the way football inspires near-religious passion.
Shirley Dash (Eagles Shirley to WIP radio fans) is one of the movie’s main subjects. We see her seeking the counsel of Jesus just minutes before seeking the counsel of morning show host Angelo Cataldi.
Later, she uses space in her church to continue her football ministry — explaining the intricacies of the game to football “widows.” Also featured in Maybe Next Year: a Catholic priest who on game day becomes a character named Helmethead and leads his stadium section in raucous cheers.
“When you get to know the people, you see that football is just a huge part of their lives, almost the same way they look at God, or family,” Thrash said.
When the Eagles do win the Super Bowl, it’s the emotional bonds of fellowship, captured nicely by Thrash and director of photography Michael Faller, that give the movie its emotional heft.
Thrash is no novice — he’s been doing movie videos and commercial work in New York for several years — but even so, he was able to receive the help of Philadelphia’s Wavelength Productions to give the movie polish. Wavelength has helped produce several high-profile documentaries , including Won’t You Be My Neighbor, and Where’s My Roy Cohn?
“What [footage] Kyle already had was awesome, and he had identified compelling characters, but what we are able to provide is the kind of production expertise that just takes it to another level,” said Jenifer Westphal, president and founder of Wavelength, who knew of Thrash’s project because her son had lent him a camera.
She brought in composer Jackson Greenberg (Cartel Land) to provide the movie’s score, and accomplished documentarians like Don Argott and Sheena Joyce (The Art of the Steal) to give advice on editing. She also helped secure the rights to audio from talk-show hosts Cataldi, Mike Missanelli and Eagles play-by-play man Merrill Reese.
“We didn’t want the [network] broadcasters. We wanted the radio personalities, because they are the ones who are there, every day, communicating with the fans,” said Westphal, herself an Eagles fan, and happy to use Wavelength’s expertise to help Thrash get his project across the goal line. “ I think you see [in Maybe Next Year] the story of Eagles fans told in a way, finally, that it should be told.”