"Gold Balls" Tells The Story Of Senior Tennis Players Vying For National Glory
  | By Brian Coleman

The sixth annual Gold Coast International Film Festival begins next week as more than 25 feature-length films and 40 short films will be screened at the Gold Coast Arts Center in North Hempstead, and there is one film in particular that will be of interest to tennis fans here on Long Island.

“Gold Balls” is a feature film highlighting the journeys of senior tennis players, making their way across the country in hopes of becoming a National Champion and earn a Gold Ball. It explores many universal questions about aging and what makes a champion.

The film’s director is Kate Dandel, a first-time director who got the inspiration for the film from her father-in-law, a retired litigator in his 80s who travels the country playing tennis tournaments.

“It started with a wing and a prayer,” says Dandel. “I flew to Sarasota for a tournament my father-in-law was playing. I literally hired a guy from Craigslist to shoot for me a few days, following my father-in-law around and filming his routine, and brought that footage back to Seattle with me. I had done a film school program and had been doing some screenwriting, so I had some contacts, and I showed the footage I had to some directors and producers. And people responded positively to the idea, and that gave me a sense of confidence that there was something here worth pursuing.”

While Dandel had the confidence and feedback she needed to pursue the film, she didn’t have the budget

“It was a challenging project and finding the time to travel and coordinate shooting at tournaments was always difficult,” said Dandel. “One thing a lot of people may not realize is that these tournaments take place over five days and in different corners of the country, and I didn’t have the budget to hang out for five days with a camera crew. So I had to be very strategic in picking and choosing when we would be at each tournament and figure out how we were going to cover all these matches.”

Dandel began the process of trying to raise money to continue filming and add more characters to the documentary. She met with people in the tennis world, and some of the connections she had in the film world, but had no luck with that route, so she started a KickStarter campaign, where she was able to raise $26,000, enough to do a short film. While it wasn’t enough yet to turn her story into a feature-length documentary, the money raised gave her a platform, and confirmed what she already knew: that the story had appeal and there was a market for it.

She continued to plug away, and was able to win the 2016 SIFF/Aegis Living $50,000 documentary film grant, which really set her production in motion.

“I couldn’t have done this without that grant. They started a documentary film grant program last year, and we were an inaugural recipient of it,” said Dandel. “They wanted to support positive films about aging. It was another indication that people responded to the film, even beyond just the tennis world.”

With her new budget she was able to continue traveling the country, and introduce new players and characters into the film.

“I think one of the happiest and most delightful outcomes, and something that maybe I didn’t expect going in, was how respectful and supportive these players are to each other, especially in light of today’s political climate,” recalls Dandel. “Tennis can be a very individual and adversarial sport. To get into that championship mindset, sometimes you have to look at your opponent as an enemy, somebody you want to conquer. What you see in this age range, is that there is still a lot of honor, and I found that to be very inspiring, and worth emulating for a younger generation.”

The film’s themes and uplifting message made it a perfect fit for the Gold Coast International Film Festival.

“The film instantly appealed to us for a number of reasons,” said Caroline Sorokoff, the Festival Director of Gold Coast International Film Festival. “The first being that it is a tennis film. But it is also a delightful documentary about aging and people who are living life to the fullest. We thought it was a fun film that would appeal to not only seniors and not only tennis players, but a wide array of people that wanted a fun afternoon out.”

The film will make its local debut this Saturday at 5:00 p.m. at the Manhasset Bow Tie Cinemas, and will be followed by a Q&A with Dalden and two Long Island players featured in the film. The premiere will also be sponsored by USTA Long Island, as it reinforced many of the organizations missions, most notably the fact that tennis is a sport that can be played for a lifetime.

“The USTA Long Island Region is proud to sponsor the Gold Coast International Film Festival’s presentation of ‘Gold Balls’, which showcases one of our keys messages: that tennis is a sport for a lifetime,” said Mike Pavlides, USTA Long Island Region President. “Tennis can be played and enjoyed by everyone from the smallest children to the very elderly, as shown in Gold Balls. In fact, we are happy that two of our senior USTA League players are able to participate in a panel discussion following the movie presentation. Pat Molloy and Leslie Wecksler will be talking about how they have enjoyed tennis for many years and continue to play competitively. Both women participate on USTA League teams that will be competing at their National tournament this year in the 65 and over age group.

Gold Coast has been a pleasure to work with—both this year with Gold Balls and last year when they presented and we sponsored the documentary “Althea”—and we hope they will continue to include tennis-themed films in their annual festival.”

Click Here for more information about the film, and Click Here for more information on the Gold Coast International Film Festival. 

Brian Coleman

Brian Coleman is the Senior Editor for Long Island Tennis Magazine. He may be reached at brianc@usptennis.com