By Maggie Lange | Thompson on Hollywood February 19, 2013 at 7:49PM
This summer, ESPN will host a series of films called "Nine for IX" - nine documentaries about women in sports, all directed by women filmmakers, named for the Title IX amendment. ESPN Films and espnW announced the series at a lunch in New York earlier today. "Nine for IX" will take the format of ESPN's successful "30 for 30" series, in which acclaimed directors took on a passion project with the shared mission to tell a great sports story. All of the "Nine of IX" films are currently in production; ESPN has slated the series to premiere on July 2, 2013 airing over nine consecutive Tuesday evenings.
The stories in "Nine for IX" are compelling and the selected filmmakers have the storytelling chops to tell them. Ava Duvernay (winner of 2012's Sundance best directing award for "Middle of Nowhere") will helm "Venus VS." about Venus Williams's fight for equal pay for female tennis players. Robin Roberts will produce "Pat XO" directed by Lisa Lax and Nancy Stern about the winningest coach in the history of NCAA basketball, with a unique ability to push and motivate her players. Rachel Grady and Heidi Ewing ("Jesus Camp," "Detropia") will direct a story-driven examination of the sexualization of female athletes in "Branded." While this pair is known for their immersion in the world of evangelical youth from "Jesus Camp" and an urban portrait via "Detropia," Heidi Ewing says this documentary gave them a thrilling chance to "dive into another world of humanity."
The "Nine of IX" series marks an earnest effort for the network to develop relationships with female filmmakers and tell stories about female athletes. At the lunch, John Skipper, the current president of ESPN, said he hopes that "Nine for IX" will help ESPN Films to "develop a relationship with more female filmmakers, so they could be incorporated into the '30 for 30' program." These films will be evergreens, films that could be aired continually to keep these stories of incredible females in the sports world active.
The film that resonated the most among the group of filmmakers, journalists, and television executives gathered for the lunch was "Let Them Wear Towels" -- also the documentary with the best name. Directed by Annie Sundberg and Ricki Stern, the film examines the history of females reporting in the men's world of the locker room through pioneers like Claire Smith, Melissa Ludtke, and Lesley Visser -- reporters known for their principled resilience and humorous retaliation. The clip from Stern and Sundberg's film sparked war stories among the table about the struggles of a female covering the sports world, including one of the "Nine for IX" directors Hannah Storm, who recounted that as a reporter she was prevented from interviewing NFL players as they stretch as the coach thought she might be a distraction. "The locker room was a metaphor for letting them into this world," said Stern. She continued to admire the journalists she interviewed for her film: "This is a generation of women we should pay more attention to."
More information about "Nine for IX" here at espnW.com.