Born to Lead Documentary Included in the Boulder International Film Festival
It all started with an idea back in 2008.
George Antonopoulos wanted to create a film that told the story of Sal Aunese, who starred at quarterback for the Buffaloes before having his life tragically cut short by cancer.
“I watched it all unfold with my eyes. I knew I had to do this,” said Antonopoulos, who enrolled at CU the same semester as Aunese. “But back in 2008, the economy was so terrible there was no way I could make a big, massive, dramatic movie, especially being a first time film maker.”
That is why Antonopoulos decided to do a documentary. Filming began the following year, in 2009, with Bill McCartney, Gary Barnett, and others sharing their stories of Aunese. An interview with former NFL great Junior Seau was filmed in 2010, roughly six months before his untimely death, and they located rare Pop Warner footage of Aunese from 1977.
“Junior grew up with Sal and they were cousins and best friends. It started to become a big sports documentary,” Antonopoulos said. “It became this epic journey that no one could imagine. It was a long process.”
A year-and-a-half ago, nearly seven years after they first began shooting interviews for the documentary, Born to Lead: The Sal Aunese Story was completed. Antonopoulos produced the film, while Lara Slife directed it.
“There were so many obstacles, it was a whirlwind, but it was a team effort and we did it,” Antonopoulos said.
The documentary received rave reviews during a screening at CU-Denver last August with Dave Logan serving as moderator and a long list of former Buffs in attendance. Then, it won Best Documentary and Slife won Best First Time Director at a film festival in Milan, Italy, in November.
“To get those awards 5,000 miles away from home, it was unbelievable,” Antonopoulos expressed. “It was like an 800-pound gorilla coming off your back because you feel like you proved this is worthy. It was validation. I was on top of the world; the greatest moment of my life.”
The disappointment of not getting into this year's Sundance Film Festival was replaced with excitement when it was accepted into the Boulder International Film Festival.
“We actually had to work really hard to get into 'B.I.F.F.' because it might look like we were just let in because it is a CU related film. That was not the case, believe me,” Antonopoulos said. “It is like the same where Derek McCartney didn't just earn his spot. He probably had to work twice as hard because of his last name, just to prove himself. Same thing with Coach [Mike] MacIntyre's son Jay, who has a set of hands on him and is a good receiver.”
Born to Lead: The Sal Aunese Story will be shown at the First Presbyterian Church, which is located in the heart of downtown Boulder, on Friday, March 3 from 11 am to 12:48 pm. Former Buffs J.J. Flannigan, Jeff Campbell, Bill McCartney and Justin Bannan are among the expected attendees. Only 450 tickets are available, and they are on sale at http://www.ticketfly.com/event/1428627.
“We are creating an Oscar campaign for Best Documentary Feature Film for next year, 2018,” Antonopoulos said. “The first step was to get into an international film festival. We did that. The second step was to be lucky enough to win. We did that in Milan and there were some great documentary films there, from all over the world.
“And now we have our television deal for the summer. Every festival, their interest level has gotten even higher. It is just like the nine tough years of CU football that finally culminated in 'The Rise.' Finally we are getting our recognition for all the blood, sweat and tears.”
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