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Fire in Babylon: Fighting for Freedom on the Cricket Field

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Fire in Babylon
Directed by Stevan Riley
Tribeca Film
July 22 through 29
ReRun Gastropub Theater

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Social rebellion comes via the sports field in Fire in Babylon, a nonfiction portrait of the superlative ’70s–’80s West Indies cricket team and minor companion piece to Invictus. Using a conventional, if deftly edited, combination of archival clips, interviews, and uplifting songs (many from Bob Marley), Stevan Riley’s documentary tells a unique true-life tale with a familiar film trajectory, detailing how the West Indies team, inspired by apartheid South Africa’s struggles, defied ingrained colonial intolerance by casting off their entertaining-losers reputation (“calypso cricketers”) to become fierce combatants. Bruising and bloodying white English and Australian opponents as an enraged rejection of their subjugated status, the team’s transformation proves a stirring reflection of the turbulent era’s shifting racial paradigms. A primer on cricket’s rules or league structure might have amplified the drama, and random musical numbers feel more like padding than an attempt to posit the game as part of the West Indies’ cultural fiber. Yet Riley shrewdly maintains focus on how the players co-opted the merciless tactics of their invective-hurling adversaries for their own, and the region’s, self-actualization. Not to mention, his film brings greater attention to one of the all-time best sports nicknames, for fearsome fast bowler Michael Holding: “Whispering Death.”

 
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