SEC Ready: Hill Country Film Festival spotlight

Nobody’s calling the University of Texas the big brother of Texas A&M University anymore.

Not that anyone in Aggieland ever did.

With the move from the Big 12 Conference to the Southeastern Conference two years ago, the Aggies have officially separated themselves from the perceived shadow of the Longhorns and are well on their way to long term success in the SEC.

It’s why Aggie faithful have always believed themselves to be “SEC Ready,” which is also the title of a feature documentary produced by TexAgs Films that will screen tomorrow at the Hill Country Film Festival.

The movie, released by the A&M-centric media outlet and fan forum in October, is expected to face its first non-Aggie audience at 4:45 p.m. tomorrow afternoon in Theater 1 at Fritztown Cinema.

“I think both (director) Lindsey (Crouch) and I are looking forward to the screening because it will be the first time that we’ve shown it to a group that’s not an Aggie audience,” executive producer Brandon Jones said. “It will be interesting to put the film out there for people that are film savvy in the best and worst ways.”

The film begins with the Big 12 Conference in turmoil in 2010, tracks the fight to keep the conference intact despite overtures from the Pac-10 Conference and chronicles the events that ultimately led Texas A&M to the decision to move to the SEC.

Sports and politics

Though Heisman Trophy winner (and Kerrville Tivy graduate) Johnny Manziel was a key reason the Aggies have proven themselves to be SEC worthy, the polarizing local figure doesn’t play a major role in the film, which is much more political than a typical sports documentary.

Given that most of the events in the film were secret, clandestine meetings between conference and university officials, it’s remarkable how the filmmakers were able to make private events without major media coverage fresh and exciting.

At certain points within the drama of the process, there’s a terrific subcurrent of comedy that lightly jabs several key players in the discussion, most notably Baylor University officials and Big 12 Commissioner Dan Beebe.

“You think politics is always serious, but there’s these (humorous) stories that they always have and it’s nice to be able to tell those stories,” Crouch said.

Film nuances

For first time feature filmmakers, the crew from “SEC Ready” do a masterful job of making a high quality sports documentary on par with the ESPN “30 For 30” series.

Visually, the documentary is stunning in its use of offsetting stock and interview footage with beautiful and engaging clips of Kyle Field prior to its reconstruction.

“There’s a number of little mechanisms that she (Crouch) did that I thought really polished out the film,” Jones said. “She did a great job of doing a transition right when someone was making a point — really creative when she would cut to another scene to enhance the point that was being made.”

Maroon-colored glasses

Without a doubt, “SEC Ready” approaches every issue discussed in the film from a decidedly pro-A&M perspective. How the film is received by an audience with mixed college affliations is still uncertain.

Those with maroon-colored glasses will appreciate how dedicated “SEC Ready” is to telling the Aggie story, while  fans of rival schools may scoff at some of the film’s conclusions.

“I’ve thought about this a lot. Any good documentary that I’ve seen always has to camp out in a vantage point and tell it from that perspective,” Jones said. “If you try to tell (the story) from every perspective, you lose some of that perspective.”

It’s unfortunate that key players from the other side of the issue — UT athletic director DeLoss Dodds, UT president Bill Powers and Big 12 Commissioner Dan Beebe — all declined interviews for the film.

A more neutral take on the situation is provided, however, by veteran journalists Kirk Bohls of the Austin American-Statesman and Andy Staples of “Sports Illustrated.”

Journalists, who by and large should be providing both sides to every story, are a good means to counter the arguments posed by Aggie faithful in the film, but it can’t completely offset what getting even just one opposing voice could have meant for the film.

“I’ve really proud of what we did because certainly it’s A&M’s story by virtue of who participated in the film, but we didn’t go out of our way to take a bunch of shots at people,” Jones said. “I felt like that, given the content that we had, Lindsey played it really well in how she told that story in putting it together.”

In fact, it’s Crouch’s neutrality in the filmmaking process (as a University of Miami graduate) that keeps the documentary from spilling over into full-fledged Aggie propaganda.

Crouch said her non-A&M education “gave me a more objective view of doing it. Having some of the funnier parts (the fake Dan Beebe Twitter account referenced in the film), I remember that and I wasn’t here during that time. Little things that I knew about but that I wasn’t necessarily super informed about, I wanted to add in just because I just remember them.”

More information on the film is available online at texags.com/secready.

(Note: Film critic Matt Ward is a programmer for the Hill Country Film Festival.)

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