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This eight-part original documentary series from filmmaker Brett Morgen (THE KID STAYS IN THE PICTURE) profiles rural Watersmeet, Michigan, where everyone follows the progress of the local high school basketball team - the Nimrods. More a portrait of a small American town than a conventional sports documentary, NIMROD NATION sympathetically observes life and conversation in the local coffee shops, hunting lodges and locker romms as the long, cold basketball season unfolds.
When I settled in to take a look at Nimrod Nation, an eight-part documentary series that aired beginning in 2007 on the Sundance Channel, I expected to sit still for an episode or two before deciding when and whether to continue. To my not-inconsiderable surprise, I devoured the first four episodes in a single afternoon, took down two more in the evening, and finished out the package the following morning. Taken as a whole, Nimrod Nation is not a great documentary, but it's a friendly and unassuming collection of days in the life that gets big points for compulsive watchability. The original Nimrod was a Mesopotamian king described in the Bible as a mighty hunter, and it's his status as an outdoorsman that led the people of Watersmeet, a town of about 1500 people in the frigid, snow-centric Upper Peninsula of Michigan, to adopt "Nimrod" as the nickname for its high-school basketball team. As depicted in Nimrod Nation, the people of Watersmeet love to hunt -- or maybe it's not simply that they love it as much as it's just the way things are done. Even as a kid I was more city slicker than outdoorsman, but my family knew how to hunt jackrabbit and catch catfish, and I recognized the efficiency and pride with which the Zelinski family skins, guts and slices up a given animal. Animal lovers will cringe, but there's a terrific scene at the end of the first episode involving the almost ritualistic execution of a hog that's been fattened for the slaughter -- and the malfunctioning handgun that one of the local kids is using to try and take the big friendly thing down. (I had to look away from the screen before it was over.) It's a great image in part because you can feel the filmmakers triangulating its significance: the unremarkable reality of the situation, the relationship of the documentarians to the event itself, and the (presumed) discomfort of the home viewer. Ostensibly a sports documentary, Nimrod Nation is at its best when it's able to extract that kind of vivid, revealing, and/or absurd moment from the lives of these smalltowners. Director Brett Morgen (The Kid Stays in the Picture; Chicago 10) apparently earned the right to get up close and personal with the locals after he made a series of successful promos for ESPN that spotlighted the Nimrods. Morgen returned to Watersmeet the year after the Nimrods won a regional championship to chronicle the team's effort at repeating that success. For most of the show's running time, the basketball games themselves are used as a backdrop, putting tiny slice-of-life stories in perspective. There's the one about basketball coach George Peterson's son, who gets the brunt of his dad's color commentary during practice. There's the one about Brian Aimsback, a talented player whose grandmother feels he's getting slighted because he's Native American. And there's the one about Nathan Vestich, the team's loose cannon in residence, whose anger-management issues will become a problem before the end of the season. The basketball games become a more and more important part of the story leading into the final episodes, which ratchet up the big-game suspense in fairly conventional ways. I liked Nimrod Nation best when it stayed off the court, though -- considering a cheerleader's aspiration of finding a better life in (slightly) warmer climes as a Wisconsin cosmetologist, sitting in on the chatty, self-assured conversations of the old guys hanging out mornings at the local diner, or eavesdropping on the foul-mouthed insults the teenaged boys toss at each other across the surface of a frozen lake as they keep an eye on their little ice-fishing rigs with lines dropping through the ice... --Deep-focus.com
"Nimrod Nation: The Complete Series" (Arts Alliance America; $39.99, DVD; May 20) with Brett Morgan ("On the Ropes") directing a Sundance Channel documentary about how life revolves around hunting and high-school basketball in the remote town of Watersmeet, Mich. The eight-part series follows the trials and tribulations of the team, the community and the school leading up to the final championship game. --Phillyburbs.com
Way up in one of the northernmost parts of the United States, in the tundra of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, right near the Wisconsin border, an interesting phenomenon has taken place over the last few years. An entire area of the country has become obsessed with basketball. Not pro basketball. Not even college hoops. No, they're obsessed with the Watersmeet Nimrods, a high school basketball team with a very unfortunate name. ESPN started the craze by airing commercials with the tagline "Without sports, who would cheer for the Nimrods?" The team became something of a phenomenon, even appearing on The Tonight Show and The Sundance Channel sought them and their fans out for a documentary series called Nimrod Nation. Fans of small-town sports and documentary series should take a look at the Nimrods. --The Deadbolt.com