Back in May 2013, Kris Belman appeared on ESPN Radio in Cleveland and spoke to The Cleveland Plain Dealer about an upcoming ESPN 30 for 30 on Cleveland sports fans he was directing. At that time, Belman, the director of the acclaimed 2008 documentary More Than A Game on LeBron James and his AAU teammates, was in town with his crew on an “exploratory trip” before full shooting, but he said the film was set to air on ESPN in 2014 as part of the 50th anniversary of the Browns’ last title. Belman then spoke to Cleveland Magazine for a piece in their August 2013 issue and said that although the film was still in “developmental” stages, they would be filming that fall and have a rough cut done by February 2014. Since then, there’s been a whole lot of silence about this project, until the Cleveland Film Festival announced Thursday that a 30 for 30 called “Believeland” about Cleveland sports fans would premiere at the festival March 31. It has a new director attached, frequent 30 for 30 producer Andy Billman, but Cleveland’s The Scene magazine’s Vince Grzegorek writes that it is the old project:
The fabled and long awaited 30 for 30 documentary from ESPN on the Cleveland championship drought finally has a premiere date.
It’s been a strange trip for the project, which started some years back under the direction of Kristopher Belman, an Akron native who directed “More Than a Game,” the documentary on LeBron and his high school teammates at St. Vincent St. Mary. There was talk that the film would be timed with the 50th anniversary of Cleveland’s last championship — the 1964 Cleveland Browns — in 2014. Then nothing happened, and it turned out that Belman was booted from the project and the film had to get a reboot under Ohio native Andy Billman.
Well, it’s finally done. Or at least close enough to being done that there’s a premiere date: March 31 as part of the Cleveland International Film Festival at 7 p.m. at the Connor Palace at Playhouse Square.
It seems strange at first to have a project first highly-publicized, then vanish with no word, then reappear years later with a new director at the helm, but the structure of ESPN’s 30 for 30s might help to explain that. Sources tell Awful Announcing ESPN sometimes provides just some seed money for a project rather than fully funding it, and can decide to offer more or not as it goes along based on progress and on if things are going the way they want. That’s part of why these are often kept very under-wraps until they’re close to completion and airing; for example, last May’s announcement of 30 more films for Volume III only provided four specific subjects. The Cleveland one probably received more discussion well in advance than most thanks to the desire to recruit specific fans for participation; Belman’s 2013 media appearances all included that he wanted fans to send their stories to him by e-mail.
That’s not a bad idea, but it did mean that information on this was spread much sooner than it might have been for many 30 for 30s, and that may have caused some disappointment when the film didn’t air in 2014 as planned. However, the documentary seems to be done or close to done now, and it has a premiere scheduled (albeit without an ESPN air date at this point). Hopefully it won’t meet the fate of fellow 30 for 30 Down In The Valley or ABA mockumentary The New Jersey Turnpikes, which were never seen again after their premieres…