Another theme in the documentary is the struggle between structured and creative play for young athletes and whether specializing in a single sport early on is productive or not.
In a sport intent on manufacturing the biggest, strongest and fastest players, how does someone like New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, who ran the 40-yard dash in a famously slow 5.28 seconds, become arguably the greatest player in the history of the National Football League?
Filmmaker Gabe Polsky, producer of “Genius” (2017) and “Red Army” (2014), searches for an answer to this question in his latest film “In Search of Greatness,” set for a national release on November 2.
Centered around intimate interviews with Pelé, Jerry Rice and Wayne Gretzky, the documentary challenges three of the world’s greatest athletes to reflect on what made them great in their respective fields. Polsky also analyzes the notion of greatness, asking whether athletes should strive to raise the bar or completely change the way people see the bar.
The film also puts a spotlight on Michael Jordan, Serena Williams, Muhammad Ali and even physicist Albert Einstein and musician David Bowie to show how the conditions for greatness compare across the fields of sports, music and science. Among other things, the athletes featured all possessed organic passion for their craft, a healthy degree of selfishness and an inherent desire to challenge the status quo. They also see themselves blurring the lines between athlete, performer and artist.
Polsky uses vintage footage to show how athletic excellence was developed and displayed. We see Serena Williams learning to serve by throwing her racket as hard as she could and Wayne Gretzky literally changing hockey by playing behind the opposition’s net. The film not only identifies great athletes, it shows the exact moments that made them great.
Another theme in the documentary is the struggle between structured and creative play for young athletes and whether specializing in a single sport early on is productive or not. While youth sports authorities tend to push for early specialization and structured play, the athletes featured in “In Search of Greatness” make excellent cases for the contrary.
With this film, Polsky breaks away from the zero-to-hero formula used so often in sports documentaries. Instead of building athletes into larger-than-life beacons of diligence and athletic prowess, he looks past the records and championships to expose the humanity of greatness.