Cal Crew Documentary Hits All The Right Chords

This just well may be the golden age of rowing movies. First, A Hero For Daisy gained national attention and acclaim for its portrayal of rowing as a vehicle for a gender equity. Now, the film ALL FOR ONE: IN THE SPIRIT OF THE RACE chronicles an 18-month stretch of rowing at Cal-Berkeley between 1998 and 1999. While ALL FOR ONE may not have the universal appeal of the story told by "Daisy" it is nonetheless a rowing film head and shoulders above all others.

The film was made by Dominique Derrenger who rowed at Berkeley High School during the 1980's but chose film school over rowing during college. While he drifted away from participating in rowing, Derrenger remained enamoured with his memories of the sport. At the same time he grew frustrated with how crew had been portrayed in Hollywood movies and felt that "rowing usually played only a small or insignificant roll in the story, a photogenic backdrop at best," says Derrenger. "I wanted to make a film that took you inside the sport, and focused on its many positive virtues."

Ironically, Derrenger chose to film at Cal because he was a Berkeley native and had learned about some the program's rich history. The fact that his film ended up telling the story of Cal's ascension to a national championship in 1999 was, according to Derrenger, "just a matter of being in the right place at the right time."

ALL FOR ONE opens with a look back at Cal's three Olympic champion crews, and it is this history of success that forms the backdrop for the entire film. Interviews with Don Blessing, the last living member of the 1928 Olympic crew, also add the type of personal perspective essential to any good storytelling effort.

During the film Derrenger seamlessly mixes together a century's worth of rowing footage. He skillfully uses 35mm motion picture cameras to shoot from a variety of resourceful angles, with a wide range of film stocks, and variable frame rates to emphasize the sport's inherent beauty. Derrenger has created a film that pulls you into rowing and lets you feel not only what it's like to win but also what it's like to step into a boat in the first place. His filming is at its best during a montage that shows several crews over the ages getting their shells onto the water. The scene flips back-and-forth between vintage and modern day footage, and without saying a word, Derrenger conveys how little time has changed the essential traditions of rowing.

The film follows, and is narrated by, Cal coach Steve Gladstone and the highlight of his story is when he speaks about his own motivations for, and philosophies regarding, coaching. Many in rowing view Gladstone as something of a mystery, a coach with the magical ability to produce winning crews anywhere he goes, and the movie does a creditable job of revealing him as a man of intensity and drive.

Several Cal oarsmen are interviewed and while all have an interesting thought or two, coxswain Michael Lennig and 1998 stroke Andreja Stevanovic offer the most compelling views of the sport and their places in it. Lennig in particular speaks eloquently on his growth through his participation in rowing.

Anyone who has rowed in college - or raced on any level for that matter - will understand the nuances that make ALL FOR ONE such a good film. It is not the rowing scenes, but the points right before and right after the races, whether won or lost, that establish the type of credibility that stirs emotions. Tension, disappointment, and elation are the common experiences of the collegiate rower and Derrenger has caught them all on film.

- The Rowing News


Passion, pride and poetry: these are some of the elements that personify the spirit of the race.

In a time when selfishness, self-centeredness and singularity seem to be acceptable as strengths, this film reminds us that teamwork and loyalty are so much more gratifying and rewarding.

ALL FOR ONE: IN THE SPIRIT OF THE RACE is a refreshing study in those philosophies that struggle to maintain themselves as valuable mores and foundations during these turbulent times. Produced, directed and edited by Dominique Derrenger, the film smoothly mixes several components that produce a tight and interesting format. It also successfully toggles back and forth between University of California-Berkeley's Olympic-winning crew coach Ky Ebright, one of his esteemed gold medal-winning students Don Blessing, and the young UC Golden Bears of today.

The engaging and charismatic presiding varsity coach, Stephen Gladstone, beautifully narrates the film. It is quite obvious that he still practices the philosophies set in place by Ebright back in the 1920's. As a result of these standards, no other university in America has ever produced three gold-medal winning Olympic (8-oared) crews.

In watching this film we have the privilege to observe the development of the sport from its inception. Rowing was established as the first American intercollegiate sport in the U.S., and the world. We watch in a series of flashbacks the progression throughout the years until we reach the present day melange. Again, it is so abundantly clear that the coaches of today continue to carry through the ethics and tones of yester-year.

They are quietly cool, professional and obviously respectful of each and every member on the squad. Full of strong stirrings of teamwork - reckless daring and aggression - we also find there is no room for egos or superstars.

The team is built upon eight very well-placed oarsmen and a coxswain at the back, coaching, pushing, and encouraging the team to the finish line. Collectively, they are poetry in motion as they glide across the glassy body of water, mesmerizing us with their unfaltering movement.

To compound the complexity of what these men are includes their athletic strength and stamina along with a rigorous academic agenda. Most are majoring in such tedious subjects as physics, chemistry, and calculus. The degree of difficulty is enhanced by the fact that they attend UC-Berkeley, an extremely competitive school. However, the spirit of the race brings balance to their complicated lives allowing the time they need away from their studies. It was clearly stated that many experience their best grades during rowing season.

Rowing becomes a release from school and school becomes a release from rowing." They base their survival upon the simple philosophy of Ky Ebright "Get ahead, and stay ahead." Honesty, trust, intelligence, motivation, and honor: these are some of the elements that personify the spirit of the race.

- The Sentinel-Record
(Reviewed at The 2002 Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival)


Filmmaker Dominique Derrenger set out to show the virtues of men's intercollegiate rowing through the eyes of the crew team at UC Berkeley, past and present. Loyalty, teamwork, integrity, trust, motivation, honor and perseverance were the values that still remained within the oldest sport on campus, even 130 years after its establishment.

Cal athletic director and head men's rowing coach Stephen Gladstone is scheduled to appear at the Orinda Film Festival on Sept. 21 to discuss how the 1998-1999 team overcame tremendous odds and competed for its first national title in 25 years. ALL FOR ONE: IN THE SPIRIT OF THE RACE is a feature length documentary that chronicled an 18-month stretch of the modern team's experiences.

The festival features a series of screening events," said executive director Randy Holleschau. "ALL FOR ONE traces the dramatic history of UC Berkeley's rowing team."

This particular program on Sunday evening will allow film buffs to interact with filmmakers, exchange ideas and learn more about what goes on behind the camera. It is part of the festival's attempt to make films more accessible to audiences.

The cinematography in ALL FOR ONE could be another reason for the popularity of the rowing film. Professional movie cameras and equipment captured the graceful moves of the eight oarsmen and coxswain, in addition to the aesthetic beauty of the photogenic sport.

The historical documentary makes the connection between past teams that won several Olympic championships and current teams going through transitions of their own. The sports story gives historical background, yet has a biographical style to it, according to Derrenger.

Derrenger will also be on hand at the festival to discuss his movie's memorable flashbacks, vivid rowing footage and coaching philosophies that apply to real life. Much of the film focuses on Gladstone's champion building skills as one of the most influential rowing coaches in the nation.

ALL FOR ONE had its world premiere at the Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival last year. As the programming chair for Orinda's festival, Jo Alice Canterbury thought that it should have a screening here, since Lamorinda is considered Cal country.

It's not a highly advertised sport, yet it's a highly disciplined sport," she said. "I just thought it was a fascinating sport.

- The Contra Costa Times
(Reviewed at the 2003 Orinda Film Festival)


Each crew season, UC Berkeley's athletic director, Stephen Gladstone, carefully guides eight oarsmen and a coxswain in each boat and watches a drama unfold. As head coach of the men's varsity crew, he has long identified with the ethics the ancient sport embodies.

His team's clinching of the national championship in 1999 for the first time in 25 years, is chronicled in the movie ALL FOR ONE: IN THE SPIRIT OF THE RACE to be shown today at the Orinda Film Festival. Gladstone seemed nonplussed about being captured on film. He said the athletes, like artists, perform for the sheer love of the game.

"The spectator is rather irrelevant," he said. And, he noted, the movie's director was appropriately unobtrusive. The filmmaker is Berkeley native Dominique Derrenger, who rowed at the Ebright Boathouse during high school.

"The timelessness, the unchanging nature of what this sport requires, he's been able to capture that," Gladstone said of Derrenger's work. "It's a special movie. You get a sense of the perfection, the simplicity, the special bond that exists between the coach and the oarsmen."

Gladstone's longtime friend Martin McNair, who coached Cal's crew team from 1967 through 1972, said the months of practice culminate in some fairly high drama. "There were times I felt I was going to vomit my whole stomach," the Point Richmond resident remembered. "It all gets unfolded in six minutes on the (2,000-meter) race course."

Gladstone said the sport is "theater, but it's unscripted. It's revealing of human nature. For people to give themselves as entirely as these athletes do to this endeavor requires tremendous trust. ... It's powerful. It touches the human soul in a visceral way," he said.

"And there are no time-outs, no substitutions. It can be won or lost in one-hundredths of a second." Gladstone, who narrates the film, noted the increase in the number of rowing associations over the past two decades. In particular, he pointed to the popularity of the Oakland Strokes and the creation of the Jack London Aquatic Center as two examples.

"I like to think the elemental appeal is being translated into the community," he said.

Part of the sport's appeal to Gladstone and McNair is the interdependence among the rowers. Above and beyond the requisite expertise in exercise physiology and biomechanics, Gladstone described his coaching style as providing the oarsmen "a point of focus." If Gladstone's oarsmen are performing at peak level, their motions seem deceptively effortless.

McNair recalled how boat builder George Pocock described the sport: "Eight guys teeing off simultaneously ... with each golf ball going to the same place, in a straight line, at the same time ... at a racing cadence of 35 times each minute."

Gladstone took up coaching crew after abandoning previous career pursuits of investing and advertising, which he said had "no draw or nobility." His love of the sport began growing in high school, when he rowed on the Housatonic River in western Connecticut and met a former coxswain and Holy Cross University monk Father Herbert Sill, whom Gladstone called his spiritual father. It was a time and place among his happiest.

He began coaching at Princeton in 1966 and went on to Harvard as the varsity lightweight coach with four undefeated seasons before succeeding McNair at Cal in 1972. "I realized I could have the most direct, obvious impact on the whole group," he recalled. "I had the distinct feeling I can make a difference now. ... with one stroke. It was very heady."

- The Contra Costa Times
September 21, 2003

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