Apr 8, 2014
04:08 PM
Arts & Entertainment

Film About Female African-American College Golf Coach a Connecticut Venture

Film About Female African-American College Golf Coach a Connecticut Venture

From the Rough movie poster.

Catana Starks was the first African-American woman to coach a collegiate Division I level all-men’s golf team. After she took the job at Tennessee State in Nashville, historically a black college, the soft-spoken woman defied all expectations and overcame obstacles – her race and gender – to lead her globally diverse team to an all-time record championship season in 1986.

When Connecticut businessman Michael Critelli (below) first heard Starks’ story a decade ago – through his son’s chess coach, who credited Starks as one of his influences – he knew it had to be shared with others.

As a former chairman of the board of the National Urban League, Critelli has had “a lifelong commitment to diversity and inclusion.”

In Coach Starks, Critelli’s interests in leadership, gender and racial equality, “converged in one person,” he says. 

“She was not just a woman as a leader but [in a position of power over] of a golf league. [That sport] is historically not friendly to African-Americans,” says Critelli. “ ... [I thought] this has got to be the most interesting and complex diversity and inclusion challenge imaginable.”

Read a story about Coach Starks' career published by ESPN.com in 2011. 

On April 25, Critelli's Hollywood interpretation of this inspiring story, entitled "From the Rough," will hit the big screen. It stars Academy Award nominees Taraji P. Henson and the late Michael Clarke Duncan, and Tom Felton of Harry Potter fame. Watch the trailer below.

Critelli, the former Executive Chairman of Pitney Boweshad no experience in the movie industry when he acquired the rights in 2006, but he was determined to bring the story to life.

From the beginning, he fought against industry norms, which suggested his movie with an African-American female lead wouldn’t do well. 

“There’s a very pronounced bias,” says the Darien resident of the movie business.

Simply put, he “wasn’t into” the idea that his film, with its powerful storyline, wouldn’t succeed because of who the main character was; an obstacle not unlike those Coach Starks faced. (Right, the real Coach Catana Starks and her team in photo from the film's Facebook page.)

To write the screenplay he hired his son, Michael A. Critelli, who had recently graduated from the University of Southern California  with a degree in film and communications.

“If I had not chosen my son I would have picked someone like him,” says Critelli. “I wanted someone who didn’t have a fixed view of how you do a story like this.”

Conversations with Hollywood production companies made it clear that the Critellis' visions for the film didn't align with those of the industry. He called the process, "excruciatingly difficult," and in the end he self-funded the production.

Despite that route, they landed some major stars for the film.

Taraji P. Henson (known for her role as Queenie in 2008’s "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," which garnered her an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress, was “on the short list for a variety of reasons,” according to Critelli.

Standing just 5 feet 5 inches tall, Henson’s height made her a perfect fit for the role. Casting a short actress was key because Starks short stature and soft-spoken nature were critical aspects of her character.

It was Critelli who pushed for movie heavy-weight Michael Clark Duncan (left in a still courtesy of From the Rough Productions) in the role of Roger. This film is one of Duncan’s last film appearances before his death in 2012.

“[Duncan] was not the first choice but I personally liked him. I intervened there. I will take credit for pushing that one,” says Critelli.

Tom Felton, or Draco Malfoy as he’s best known, signed on to play Edward, a member of the golf team. Critelli says that this film aligned with Felton’s availability and career trajectory. (Below, Felton in still with costar LeToya Luckett.)

Principal photography took place over 25 days in 2010, primarily on the Dillard University campus in New Orleans. A preliminary cut was shown on the festival circuit in 2011. Some changes have been made though, and the re-release this year is a shorter, tighter version of the original.

“It’s a great relief to get this far, but it’s daunting,” says Critelli. “This is a one-of-a-kind movie. I don’t know how it will do. I’ve had a range of opinion from the low millions to a runaway hit. We really don’t know.”

When the film is released in select theaters April 25, he is confident that word of mouth with help the movie. Once people realize it’s not just a movie about golf, but a sport centric family-friendly film in the vein of "Remember the Titans" or "Rudy," he thinks it will have broad appeal. 

Critelli’s hope is that his film will be, “a staple for a long time,” like other classic sports films that have come before it.

For more information on the film visit the website at fromtherough.com. Check out the movies Facebook page here

Contact me by email at khartman@connecticutmag.com and follow me on Twitter, and connect with Connecticut Magazine on Twitter, onFacebook and on Google +


Film About Female African-American College Golf Coach a Connecticut Venture

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