October 18, 2019
The 28th annual Philadelphia Film Festival, which gets underway Thursday night, will feature prestige films destined for Oscar season, documentaries on a wide array of subjects, and a slate of foreign films from France, China, South Korea and numerous other parts of the world.
But amid all of these unique stories from different places is a film that's extremely local, and about a story that everyone in Philadelphia knows: The Eagles' run to their first Super Bowl championship two years ago.
Director Kyle Thrash, who was born in Philadelphia, grew up in the Lehigh Valley town of Germansville and later studied film at Drexel, is the director of "Maybe Next Year," which follows the Eagles' championship drive from a fan level. The film will have its world premiere October 21 at 6 p.m. at the Philadelphia Film Center, and a second screening will follow Oct. 26 at 9:30 p.m., at Ritz East.
"Maybe Next Year," which took two years to produce, is the debut feature film for the 30-year-old Thrash, who now lives in New York.
"I was looking for the opportunity to start my own project. I've done a lot of commercials and music video- and I wanted something of my own to kind of start," Thrash told Philly Voice in an interview this week. "I was getting into documentary, and I kind of always kept thinking of these people that I grew up with- these incredibly boisterous, and charismatic and magnetic characters."
Thrash, who originally envisioned the project as a documentary short, started by filming the tailgate community and other "small character pieces" during early-season home games.
"It started out as a way to observe fan culture, and look at why Philadelphia Eagles fans are considered, you know, the worst in the NFL, and have kind of this notorious background to them, and where all that passion kind of comes from."
As the project went on and the Birds kept winning, he began focusing on four specific fans: Jesse, a man who's part of a multigenerational family of Eagles die-hards that includes both his sick father and his newborn baby; Barry, a Berks County man who has built an Eagles-themed man cave in his home that's roughly the size of a Buffalo Wild Wings; Shirley, a frequent sports radio caller who is familiar to fans of the WIP Morning Show, and Bryant, a fan known for his boisterous and profane YouTube rants after Eagles games (you may know Bryant by his notably vulgar YouTube handle.)
"Each character kind of represented something that's engrained in the Philly fandom community," Thrash said. The four of them, he said "represent four different sides of the Eagles' fanbase community."
The director began working on the film, of course, not knowing that the Eagles would embark on an historic Super Bowl run while he was filming.
"I got really lucky with the story, the way it transpired," Thrash said.
The film goes through the 2017 season, following the four main subjects as well as others, with plenty of sports radio commentary too. Eagles fans will remember all the beats — skepticism at the start of the season, the long winning streak, the injury to Carson Wentz, the rebirth and playoff run with Nick Foles, and the victories over the Vikings in the NFC championship game and the Patriots in Super Bowl LII.
For the fateful Sunday of February 4, 2018, Thrash hired 16 people and eight different camera crews to film in different parts of Philadelphia and the Super Bowl city of Minneapolis. There were crews at Xfinity Live, Chickie's and Pete's and various neighborhoods and bars, and some of the subjects filmed themselves, including Bryant, the YouTuber, who actually attended the game in Minnesota.
Thrash — no relation to McNabb-era Eagles wide receiver James Thrash — says he drained his bank accounts in order to complete the project. He's hoping the festival premiere eventually leads to distribution, on a platform where larger audiences can see it. Thrash added that he wanted to tell a story about Philadelphia fandom that gets beyond the familiar stereotypes.
"It was just about going deeper than snowballs at Santa Claus, or any of the other notorious things that we're known for," the director said. "It's about trying to get beneath those layers to show the heart."
As for this year's Birds, Thrash is staying cautiously optimistic.
"I think Wentz looks great," he said, "I'm concerned about the secondary. I think we need to make some moves. I'm excited to have [Jalen] Mills back, hopefully this week, and about getting DeSean [Jackson] back, but I'm concerned about the defense… Doug [Pederson]'s able to adapt, he's a smart guy."
The director will appear at the premiere screening for a Q&A on the 21st, along with the four main subjects.
"Football means so much to people," Thrash said. "It's really like a tribal thing. You find your tribe, this group together that on Sunday you can put all your differences aside, put your work aside, and put your woes aside to come together and be united and cheer for one thing. It becomes more than a sport very quickly."