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The 5 Greatest Sports Documentaries of All Time

Pumping Iron

It’s the most popular film about bodybuilding and also the first screen appearance ofactor and bodybuilding legend Arnold Schwarzenegger. Director George Butler released thefilm in 1977 based on a book by Charles Gaines. It is half documentary, half fictionaland shows the preparations for the Mr. Olympia competition which took place in 1975 in South Africa. The first part is about two amateur bodybuilders competing against each other, the rest of the film is dedicated to the rivalry between two professionals: Schwarzenegger and Lou Ferrigno. Game on!

Referees at Work

Well-known strikers, the world’s best goalkeepers and famous defenders occupy the limelight in world football but what would a football game be without a referee? How much impact do they have on the game and what consequences do their decisions have? These are questions to which director Yves Hinant wanted answers. The first ever camera team was allowed to film and record referees and players communicating with each other at the EURO 2008 in Austria and Switzerland. Well worth seeing!

Hell on Wheels

Shots of fascinating landscapes and a very personal insight during the 100th anniversary of the “Tour de France”. The film mainly focuses on the two cyclists from the German Team, Erik Zobel and Rolf Aldag - their struggles and happy moments while cycling, shaving under the shower or receiving medical care. The Acadamy Award-winning director of this documentary is Pepe Danquart. His idea behind the film was to accompany the race with three camera teams to show the human perspective of this big event. A must-see!

When We Were Kings

This documentary is about the world’s most famous and historic boxing match known as the “Rumble in the Jungle” between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman. It took place in 1974 in Zaïre, today’s Democratic Republic of Congo. Director Leon Gast shows Ali preparing for his biggest battle, his victory and at the same time reflects the precarious political state of Zaïre at that time. In 1997 Gast received the Acadamy Award for ”Best Documentary“. In addition to the great story, the film also contains some performances by blues legends such as B. B. King and James Brown – Watch the trailer below!

Hoop Dreams

What started out as a short film for director Steve James ended up as an award-winning 5-year project. The film follows two African American boys, William Gates and Arthur Agee who are striving towards college scholarships in order to one day become NBA-players  and lead better lives. This documentary not only shows the journey of the two boys, but also follows the struggles of their families who are likewise hoping for better lives and offering each other encouragement and support. It also reflects issues faced by low-income families such as social injustice, racism, drug abuse and alcoholism. The film starts at the beginning of their first high-school years and ends 5 years later at the point where they both enter college.

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