'Undefeated' Puts Producer Ed Cunningham Back in the Game
by Ron Deutsch
If you typically spend your leisure time watching documentaries, you might know Ed Cunningham as the producer of films such as King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters. But if you typically watch ESPN, you might know Ed Cunningham as a former offensive lineman with the Arizona Cardinals and Seattle Seahawks, and for several years one of ESPN's on-air college football analysts.
Cunningham and his producing partner Seth Gordon have, in less than a decade, produced a series of successful feature-length documentaries: New York Doll (Dir.: Greg Whiteley), the story of Arthur "Killer" Kane, bassist for the New York Dolls; the arcade gamer film King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters, which Gordon directed and Cunningham produced; and a profile of teen magician competitions Make Believe (Dir.: J. Clay Tweel; Prod.: Steven Klein). And now Cunningham's professional worlds converge with the Oscar-nominated documentary Undefeated, directed by Dan Lindsay and TJ Martin and also produced by Rich Middlemas and Glen Zipper.
Undefeated spends a season following the Manassas High School Tigers, a football team from inner-city Memphis, which, in its 110-year history, has never made it to a playoff game. But then six years ago, in walked volunteer coach Bill Courtney, who committed himself to working with these teens to change all that.
But don't let the football backdrop make you think you're in for seeing some kind of real life Bad News Bears story. As Cunningham describes it, "The thing that's wonderful about this film, speaking as an athlete, is that it's not really a sports film. There's a real moment in that film that's poignant. It's one of the most profound things that Coach Bill says: 'Football doesn't build character. It reveals character.'