Last September, the Press reported on the making of local filmmaker Greg Carter's project, Resurrection: the J.R. Richard Story. Back then, Carter hoped to finish the movie, a biopic of the legendary Astros pitcher, in time for this year's Sundance Film Festival. That didn't happen, but Carter did finish the film in time for a February 11 screening at the annual Pan-African Film and Arts Festival in Los Angeles. Houstonians will get the chance to see the film about hometown hero J. R. Richard at this summer's Houston Black Film Festival.
Plagued with casting and logistical problems from the beginning, Resurrection was made for $250,000 and shot in less than a month. For Carter, however, that's just par for the course. "This was my seventh film," Carter says. "I take a no-nonsense approach. I visualize the shots I use and I know how things are going to cut together." The Houston native is probably best known for 1998's Fifth Ward, a gritty gangland drama in the mold of Menace II Society that pops up occasionally on cable TV. Thug Life, released in 2000, cemented Carter's tendency toward urban Houston settings. Recently, Carter straightened up his gangsta lean with two family features set in urban Houston: My Big Phat Hip Hop Family and Treasure in Tha Hood (both released in 2004). Resurrection boasts the biggest budget of Carter's movies, and it packs the most punch.
Between 1976 and 1980, dominating six-foot-eight pitcher J.R. Richard was unquestionably one of the best in baseball. He was poised to become one of the sport's first mega-stars and land a seven-figure contract alongside Nolan Ryan. Tragically, Richard suffered a stroke on July 30, 1980. Carter begins his story in the ambulance and flashes back. The film also chronicles Richard's downward slide after the stroke and his legal troubles with Astros management, who seemed to want to forget Richard even existed. In 1994, Richard was homeless and living under a bridge. Today, he's a minister and works with troubled youth. The Astros never retired his #50 jersey.
The idea for the project actually came from Charlie Bellinger Bethea, ex-wife of Oiler Alvin Bethea. During the 2004 Super Bowl opening ceremonies, 38 Houston sports legends were honored -- but Richard was conspicuously left off the list. The obvious snipe left Bethea, who had met Richard in 1991, furious. She set about finding a way to tell Richard's story. Through a series of phone calls and coincidences, Carter got the job.
"For most black kids growing up in Houston," Carter remembers, "Earl Campbell and J.R. Richard were it. These were the two biggest stars in sports." Carter remembers how excited his family was about the Astros at the time. After Richard's stroke and subsequent troubles, Carter still followed the saga. "J.R. said what he thought, and he did what he thought, and he said 'they did me wrong.' "
For Carter, the chance to meet Richard and direct the biopic was bittersweet. "J.R. was one of the greats," he says. "He'd be in Cooperstown right now, no doubt about it."
Carter's Resurrection: the J.R. Richard Story screens this summer at The Houston Black Film Festival. Check the Press for further information.
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