New York Indian Film Festival 2013 - The Only Real Game,(2012) Directed by Mirra Bank. Winner of Best Documentary at NYIFF 2013.

Written by Belle Mcintyre Against all odds, Manipur is the most unlikely of places to find baseball being played with passionate dedication and a high level of skill by a motley mixture of players of all ages both genders. It is a ragtag affair with no proper ball field and inadequate equipment. In spite of this they have a real affinity for the sport and display a great deal of natural talent. How this anomaly came to be and the enthusiasm with which those involved with this project responded to it and how every one of them were altered by the experience is what the film is about. It is both heart-warming and heart-breaking in equal measure.

Manipur, a state in the northeast corner of India on the border with Burma, has only recently opened its access to outsiders. It has been isolated for decades because of fierce military strife between multiple armed separatist groups and the Indian government. It also suffers the ravages of the heroin trade from India to Burma, which have caused addiction and trafficking violence. The effect of that combined with the neglect of the Indian government toward Manipur has left much of the population devastatingly under-educated, unemployed and impoverished.

But the Manipuris are a vibrant people with a rich cultural history of athleticism. They invented Polo and practice five types of martial arts. Dance and music are very much a part of their lives and is performed to celebrate all manner of events. Todays Manipuris are fiercely dedicated to sports as a way out of poverty and also to escape the omnipresent danger which they face on a daily basis from armed factions. They have even produced a five times world champion female wrestler

By the miracle of synchronicity between like-minded humanitarian artists and activists an alliance was formed between Muriel Peters, Chairman of First Pitch and the filmmaker, Mirra Bank to film the results of bringing some professional coaches to Manipur with a goal to having the sport as played there receive enough recognition to allow the team to compete internationally and bring much needed resources to build a regulation playing field.

The joy with which this was undertaken is revealed in every frame of the coaching and practice between the American coaches and the local players of all ages from tiny children up, both boys and girls. They all fell in love with each other - gratitude from the Manipuri players - and admiration for the grit and determination from the Americans. There were huge bureaucratic obstacles which thwarted the attainment of most of the stated goals - at least for now.

Yet all of the disappointment was trumped by the experience of the intervention on both sides. While the Manipuris were recognized and encouraged in a very real and significant way from the outside world - one gets the feeling that the Americans got as much from being a part of the project as well. They were clearly so moved by what they were able to do and how much it meant and how emotionally they had been able to connect with a group who had nothing in common but a love for baseball. They will never be the same. And as for us - witnessing these acts of generosity and compassion definitely raises our awareness and as David Hawkins has convincingly posited - simultaneously raises the level of consciousness of the universe and expands our understanding of humanity.

Ellen von Unwerth at Staley Wise Gallery

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