By Carten Cordell
Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder finds himself mired in controversy the same way you find yourself lost in silence with your mother-in-law: frequently and torturously.
And yet, for all of the tit for tat that Snyder has shared with his critics, Redskins fans and media in 16 years as owner, one article above them all triggered a multimillion-dollar lawsuit and became the embodiment of an underdog story.
That story is now a documentary.
A triumvirate of award-winning filmmakers is in production for the film “Under Our Skins: A Dave and Goliath Story.”
The film chronicles Snyder’s 2011 lawsuit against Washington City Paper and sports writer Dave McKenna, whose encyclopedic article critiquing the management of the Redskins drew the ire of the often-irate owner.
“It was a fascinating case,” says Mark Farkas, a Peabody Award-winning journalist and one of the producers of the film. “I always thought it was a great story about how this little paper and this writer making $16.99 an hour basically stood up to a billionaire.”
The film centers around McKenna’s 2010 piece for Washington City Paper, “The Cranky Redskins Fan’s Guide to Dan Snyder,” an A-to-Z list of grievances against Snyder’s tenure as owner.
The spark that lit the litigious pyre was the issue’s cover, a photo of Snyder with devil horns and a beard scribbled on like graffiti. Snyder, who is Jewish, claimed the photo was anti-Semitic and sued for $2 million in general damages beyond unspecified damages.
The case drew the attention of media outlets around the nation as a cause celebre for freedom of speech.
Farkas says the case drew his attention as it unfolded, and the recent controversies over the team’s name brought those issues back the surface. Alongside Emmy-winning filmmakers Judy Plavnick and JP Sottile, Farkas decided to revisit the case and see how it impacted the major players today.
“It had everything you need for a great film,” Farkas says. “You’ve got a main character that is controversial, Dan Snyder. You’ve got this writer, Dave McKenna, who has sort of been on the forefront of writing about Snyder for all of these years. And the story is brought forward to what’s going on today.”
Production of the documentary is underway, and filmmakers turned to crowdfunding website Indiegogo to raise money for the film.
The site features a trailer for the movie and a funding campaign that will end at midnight on Feb. 25.
Farkas says the advent of crowdfunding and the growing audience for sports documentaries made this the right time to develop an audience for this film.
“I think today we are in the heyday of sports documentaries,” he says. “You take a look at ESPN’s ’30 for 30,’ HBO does sports documentaries and so do Showtime and Netflix.
“The reason they are hungry for those is because they are not always just about sports. Sports are a way to look at larger issues. As I look at this film, it deals with larger issues. It’s about the First Amendment; it’s about leadership and now a naming controversy that I don’t think is going to go away.”
The film has garnered close to 250 funders so far, which Farkas says is enough to move it to the next stage of production. The filmmakers say they also hope to reach out to Snyder to get his take on the events.
But at its core, Farkas says this is a story of a Washington disciple rebelling against forces bigger than him.
“It’s the fan standing up to Dan Snyder and saying, ‘C’mon, we’re dissatisfied.’ And he had the gumption to write about [it].”