“What are you going to do with your life?” asks narrator Bill Murray at the opening of “Ballhawks,” a local-color documentary about a local pastime. Mike Diedrich directs and shoots a lustrous answer by portraying grown men with baseball gloves who gather on the streets outside Wrigley Field during Cubs games. He makes his sympathies clear in the understated, bittersweet score by Eric Sproull. Nicely designed graphics place on screen the key stats for each of the seven “ballhawks” who zealously chase balls that fly over the stadium wall. They fumble Diedrich’s softball questions about why. It’s “definitely a distraction from life itself,” admits Dave. Moe testifies: “It’s nothing that’s life-changing or anything, although it’s my life.” Diedrich never doubts them, not even the one, maybe math-impaired, who states he has “eight million things signed by Ernie Banks.” Another actually thinks he should get a lifetime pass to the bleachers by “donating” to their original owner 4,000 baseballs he caught: “I earned it, you know, with the things I’ve done at the park over the years.” Mike Leonard, an NBC Today Show feature correspondent, argues: “Anything with passion is heroic.” Batting practice or grand slam, an out-of-the-park Major League Baseball ball is like life. “Catch something. Hold on to something. And we’re all trying to hold on to something. I don’t think that’s crazy at all,” philosophizes the Winnetkan, who may not mean it when he says, “I hate to get all metaphysical. I think people who laugh at them [ballhawks] are crazy.” 74m. (Bill Stamets)
“Ballhawks”‘ Friday 8pm screening at Siskel is sold out; Diedrich and ballhawks will appear. Some tickets are left for screenings Friday 6pm, Saturday 8:30pm, Sunday 5:30pm.
Ray Pride is Newcity’s film critic and a contributing editor to Filmmaker magazine.
His multimedia history of Chicago “Ghost Signs” will be published soon. Previews of the project are on Twitter and on Instagram as Ghost Signs Chicago. More photography on Instagram.