Making a documentary on a deceased subject or subjects is challenging. Plenty of approaches have been tried, from straightforward archival footage and contemporary interviews with others (too many to count) to reading past journal entries (Seau) to having actors read on-tape comments from the subjects (The Last Movie Stars, on Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward) to even using AI “deepfake” technology to have holograms of the subjects read their words (Al Davis vs. The NFL).
The latest ESPN 30 for 30 to be announced is on former NFL defensive lineman Reggie White, and it’s going much more conventional with archival footage. But the twist is that it’s using it’s never-before-aired footage, from one of the last interviews White did before his 2004 passing. It’s also going to feature White’s son Jeremy, “who embarks on a journey to understand his father’s life.” Here’s more on that from a release:
ESPN Films today announced that it is in production on a 30 for 30 documentary, “The Minister of Defense,” that examines the complex and sometimes controversial life of Reggie White, one of the greatest and most faith-driven players in NFL history. Told in part through never-before-seen footage from a 2004 interview filmed two months before his death, the film chronicles both White’s incredible dominance as one of the best defensive players ever and his spiritual journey as an ordained evangelical minister who questioned his blind faith toward the end of his life. Along with interviews with teammates from both the Philadelphia Eagles and Green Bay Packers, the film features Reggie’s son Jeremy who embarks on a journey to understand his father’s life, which ended tragically short at the age of 43. “The Minister of Defense” is a portrait of a man who constantly strived to “do right” but found that sometimes there is no easy answer as to what “right” means.
The documentary will be directed by Ken Rodgers (“Bullies of Baltimore,” “The Tuck Rule,” “The Two Bills”) and Courtland Bragg (“Hard Knocks: Training Camp,” “Hard Knocks: In-Season,” “All or Nothing”)
This will mark the eighth 30 for 30 famed NFL Films figure Rodgers has directed or co-directed, with his Bullies of Baltimore coming out earlier this year. It’s notable that he was also at the helm for 2021’s aforementioned Al Davis vs. The NFL, which used those holographic deepfakes for Davis and NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle. That call was made partly out of necessity, as the COVID-19 pandemic made it tough to do traditional documentaries, but it didn’t go over well with many viewers.
So it’s certainly notable to see a 30 for 30 on another long-deceased figure take a different and more conventional tack. And The Minister of Defense is doing that while still bringing something new to the table with this never-before-seen footage and with the incorporation of White’s son Jeremy. This film is only just announced as “in production,” so we’ll have to wait a while for it (the gap from “officially announced as in production” to “air date announced” has often been eight months to a year), but it certainly will have many interested to see what Rodgers and Bragg come up with.