Exclusive: Berg, Ellwood, Ewing onboard ESPN’s ‘Nine for IX’

ESPN Films has tapped a host of leading female doc directors - including Amy Berg (pictured), Alison Ellwood, Shola Lynch, Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady - for 'Nine for IX,' a series of films about women in sports.
January 23, 2013

ESPN Films has tapped a host of leading female doc directors¬†– including Amy Berg (pictured), Alison Ellwood, Shola Lynch, Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady¬†– for ‘Nine for IX,’ a series of films about women in sports, spun out of the ’30 for 30′ doc series.

Connor Schell, VP and executive producer for ESPN Films and ESPN Classics, tells realscreen that nine documentary films are being produced and directed by female filmmakers, including efforts from West of Memphis director Amy Berg, Knuckleball! helmers Annie Sundberg and Ricki Stern, Detropia directors Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady, History of the Eagles director Alison Ellwood, and Free Angela and All Political Prisoners helmer Shola Lynch.

They will tackle stories about women in sports to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Title IX, the 1972 legislation in the U.S. that gave females equal opportunities in education programs and activities, which in turn had a huge impact on high school and collegiate athletics.

Exec produced by Jane Rosenthal and Robin Roberts, Schell says that the filmmakers are “deep in production” with the films, which are to begin airing in the spring on ESPN in primetime and ABC Saturdays.

While ESPN says it is planning to reveal more details next month, it has been reported that Sundberg and Stern’s doc will focus on the history of female journalists being allowed into men’s locker rooms.

’30 for 30′ executive producer Bill Simmons, who co-created the strand alongside Schell, says of ‘Nine for IX’: “We consider that they’re ’30 for 30′s, just spun off into a separate series that we felt was pretty important. As the brand keeps going, we can start spinning things off with the same kind of quality [as '30 for 30'].”

As for Volume II of ’30 for 30,’ which aired six documentaries this fall, Schell says they will continue to air and produce more docs for the series over the next 18 months.

The ESPN Films team has also launched ’30 for 30 Shorts,’ which takes the spirit of the documentaries to Simmons’ website Grantland. Films that have debuted include Arnold’s Thumbprint from Jeff Zimbalist, and Michael Zimbalist and Jonathan Hock’s Jake.

Simmons, who always imagined his two creations coming together at some point, says: “I think those are the two places where storytelling has become an essential part of each one.”

And at this point, the bar has been raised. “I don’t think there is any excuse for us to have a bad [documentary] this time around,” says Simmons.

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