EXCLUSIVE: Michel Gondry’s Partizan and RTG Features have tapped Christopher Makoto Yogi (I Was a Simple Man) to direct Merv and the Miracles, a feature-length doc that explores the legendary college basketball game between Chaminade and number-one ranked Virginia in 1982.
The film, currently in the early stages of production, is being co-produced and co-financed by Partizan and RTG Features, with Julie Fong (Dave Chappelle’s Block Party), Brian Yang (Linsanity), and Justin R. Ching (Ritual) producing.
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During the opening weekend of the 43rd annual Hawai’i Film Festival, Artistic Director Anderson Le will give attendees an early first look at the film during a panel conversation with Yogi, who is himself an HIFF alum. Pic will be one of two Hawaiian indies spotlighted during the 90-minute program taking place on Saturday, October 14th at Entrepreneurs Sandbox in Honolulu.
Merv and the Miracles picks up on December 23, 1982 with Coach Merv Lopes and the Hawai’i-based Chaminade Silverswords, a tiny, then-NAIA college in Honolulu with only 800 students and without their own gym or locker room. It was then that they shocked the world in defeating the nation’s top-ranked Virginia Cavaliers and future Hall of Famer Ralph Sampson. The game has become known as the “Greatest Upset Never Seen” as it was not broadcast on TV. Featuring never-before-seen archival footage along with present-day interviews and vérité, the doc centers on Coach Lopes and his players, their opponents, and those lucky enough to be in the crowd that night, retelling one of the greatest “David vs. Goliath” games in sports history.
The Maui Invitational, an annual, early-season college basketball tournament that takes place at the Lahaina Civic Center on the island of Maui, was founded as a lasting legacy of this game in 1984. This November, the tournament will celebrate its 40th anniversary with a powerhouse field that includes Kansas, Purdue, Gonzaga, Tennessee, Marquette, UCLA, Syracuse, and Division II Chaminade, and a special purpose of raising awareness and funds for the ongoing Maui wildfire relief efforts.
“I am elated to be working with Partizan and RTG Features to bring this legendary and inspiring homegrown Hawai’i story to the world,” said Yogi in a statement to Deadline. “Beyond this epic game, Coach Lopes and his players have lived fascinating lives, and I look forward to a rich exploration in this documentary of spirit, memory and the stories we tell.”
A native of Honolulu, Yogi’s most recent, critically acclaimed narrative feature, I Was a Simple Man, premiered in U.S. Dramatic Competition at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival and was acquired by Strand Releasing. Starring Steve Iwamoto, Constance Wu, Tim Chiou and Kanoa Goo, it tells the story of a family in Hawai’i that faces the imminent death of their eldest as the ghosts of the past haunt the countryside. Both that title and his debut feature, August at Akiko’s, which premiered at the 2018 International Film Festival Rotterdam, were shot in Hawai’i, with the latter telling the story of a musician’s journey in search of his ancestral home. Yogi’s documentary work recently screened at MoMA’s Doc Fortnight 2023 and is currently available on the Criterion Channel.
Other upcoming projects for RTG Features, the sister studio to global basketball media leader SLAM, include the docuseries The Sneaker Boom directed by Sean Menard; the animated feature Sneaks, produced by and starring Laurence Fishburne; and an untitled multi-part docuseries on legendary Georgetown basketball coach John Thompson from Peabody Award-winning director Kirk Fraser.
Led by Gondry, the Academy Award winner behind films like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and producing partner Georges Bermann, Partizan most recently produced the Gondry-helmed French dramedy The Book of Solutions, which premiered at the Directors’ Fortnight in Cannes, as well as the SXSW-premiering Utopia acquisition I Used To Be Funny, starring Bottoms‘ Rachel Sennott. The company has also produced such hit feature docs as Dave Chappelle’s Block Party for Focus Features, Being AP for eOne, and Is the Man Who Is Tall Happy? for IFC Films, to name a few.
Yogi is repped by CAA, 2AM, and Gang, Tyre, Ramer.
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