Oregon native's "Mania" analyzes Blazers, fans

Oregon native's "Mania" analyzes Blazers, fans
Damon Stoudamire is pictured in this handout photo from the film "Mania."

PORTLAND, Ore. - Being a sports fan is like having a really big family. Your team may bring you joy or disappointment, but it is yours for life.

Film director Dan Schaefer is one of those fans. “Mania,” his documentary film about the Portland Trailblazers, premieres Tuesday at the NW Film and Video Festival.

If the Blazers are like a family, this is the ultimate home movie. Everyone is there — the proud parents, the baby steps, teen-aged triumphs, youthful misbehavior and, finally, signs of maturity.

When he started the project back in 2005, Schaefer planned to make a straightforward history of the franchise. But his conversations with players and staff made him realize that this was also his story.

“Most first-time filmmakers do something personal,” he said, “and eventually I realized that for me the Trailblazers’ story was personal — these were the people I grew up with.”

Schaefer is an easygoing 43-year-old Oregon native with a knack for drawing people out. While doing interviews for the film, his subjects “just opened up,” he said, “so much so that I have material I can’t use. They’d just say things flat out.” 

The film is packed with interviews: former players, coaches, managers and fans who have been there since the beginning. This rich array of voices illustrates how the young team became part of a community.

 

The late Kevin Duckworth describes how “Blazermania” could boost players’ morale and push them to excel. Clyde Drexler credits fans with making Portland a special place to play because the fans “love their Blazers. It was always like a college environment.” And Damon Stoudamire, a Portland native, could look out at a game and “probably know half of the crowd personally.”

The film also shows how appropriate the team’s name is. An interview with the Blazer’s founding manager Harry Glickman details his struggle to get an expansion franchise for Portland back in 1970, when “anything west of Brooklyn” was off the map for the NBA. 

And what a trail they blazed. At first, crowds came to see the other NBA teams. But that all changed when Bill Walton and Jack Ramsay came to town. The famous championship season of 1976-77 was documented in a 1978 film, “Fast Break,” by the late Don Zavin, which will also be shown at the festival on Tuesday.

But “Mania” treats 1976 as one chapter in a longer story, one that includes the Clyde Drexler days and even the sad era of the “Jailblazers.” That’s when the relationship between team and fans became strained. It was also what prompted Schaefer to make his film. He had to ask himself, “Why am I a fan?”

If you're not a Blazer maniac, parts of the film may leave you feeling like a bystander at a sports-bar debate. The details of management decisions, player strengths or weaknesses, etc., can become dull.

But the film also shows what makes the team unique: in a small market, the Blazers have loomed large in Portland culture. Their successes have seemed to mirror the city's own growth and increasing sophistication. We have become big enough for the major leagues, but are still small enough to feel like the Blazers are, as Drexler says, our "college team."

“Mania” premieres at the NW Film and Video Festival on Tuesday Nov. 11 at 6:30 p.m. at the Whitsell auditorium, Portland Art Museum - 1219 SW Park Ave. The movie “Fast Break” (1978) follows at 9 p.m.

- Sarah Berry is a freelance writer on film and popular culture