"We made a real effort to show the thrill," says Jeffrey Friedman, "but also the risk."
Classic understatement, that, since Xtreme: Sports to Die For is the closest thing to a snuff film you're likely to see on television outside of Fox. Although none of the street lugers, skysurfers, or dirt bikers profiled in the documentary actually buys the farm onscreen, the Rappin' Reaper is always hovering just outside the frame. Broken bones, it seems, are as automatic as entry fees. "It's kind of a cautionary tale, since these sports are so clearly suicidal," Friedman says. "Although if someone's already suicidal, I don't know how you caution them."
Friedman and fellow S.F. doc icon Rob Epstein (Common Threads: Stories From the Quilt) produced and directed Xtreme, which premieres Thursday, June 10 (and repeats June 16, 20, and 29) on HBO. Relentlessly kinetic without relying on flash editing and other MTV gimmicks, Xtreme tracks a handful of athletes during qualifying matches for the X Games. None made it very far, giving the film a whiff of poignancy to balance the heart-pounding tension. "While we were shooting, we were really rooting for our characters," Friedman confides. "But somehow I think losers are more interesting than winners. People's hopes and disappointments are a much richer field for exploration than people's hopes and successes."
To this viewer, surviving rather than winning would seem to be the priority. "Our main impulse," Friedman agrees, "was to figure out why people need to do these sports, and add that risk to their lives. I have more of an understanding of who they are and where they come from, but it's still very foreign to me."
But not, perhaps, to Epstein, who did a tandem skydive during the shoot. One of Xtreme's subtexts is the infiltration of the sports by corporations; it's noted, for example, that a prominent skysurfer died making a Mountain Dew commercial. Says Friedman, "We weren't out to do an expose, but young people have created a rebel, outsider culture which makes these sports sexy and dangerous and seductive and fun -- and that's what makes it attractive to television and fertile ground for exploitation."
Debra Baker's always been a woman out of time. When she got pregnant in 1967, abortion was illegal and most teenage "unwed mothers" were pressured to give their babies up for adoption. When Baker was in her 40s, she began volunteering at local film festivals -- beginning an apprenticeship in an industry that worships youth.
Nonetheless, buoyed by the encouragement of fellow volunteers, Baker spent several years making Broken Ties, a candid half-hour doc airing Sunday, June 13, at 6 p.m. on KQED about her personal fallout from the Summer of Love.
"Shame and secrecy affect a person and everyone who surrounds them," the Marin filmmaker asserts. "We can't be totally who we are in the world." The process of making Broken Ties opened communication in Baker's family, and convinced her to pursue a career behind the camera. Baker is the only filmmaker I've ever met who says, "It's been all good; I haven't had anything negative happen."