Houston native Josh Merwin has loved sports since he was a young child.
As he grew up, Merwin channeled his love for sports through his career as a sports photographer and filmmaker for several media outlets, including ESPN, Sports Illustrated and The New York Times. While working for the Houston Chronicle, Merwin came across Caron Kainer, a University of Texas athlete who needed a kidney transplant to continue playing college-level baseball.
What started as a photo essay turned into a documentary chronicling the athlete’s journey through the organ transplant process. When the project was finished, Merwin realized there wasn’t a film festival dedicated to sports where he could debut his documentary. So, he decided to start one.
We sat down with Merwin to talk about the Houston International Sports Film Festival (HISFF) and what he hopes to accomplish.
What inspired you to start the Houston International Sports Film Festival?
I want to enhance Houston’s influence in the film world and celebrate sports’ impact through film. There is a vast landscape of festivals in the U.S., but there is no festival solely dedicated to spotlighting the film world’s sports element. I wanted to start this festival to give independent filmmakers a platform to launch their films and careers by bringing people together through sports and film, with a stand-alone festival.
What is the mission of the festival?
To showcase historical sports films on racial equality and fundraise either through personal tax-deductible donations or grants/sponsorships. We want these funds to come from companies that are already supporting racial equality through education. Sports figures have pushed the boundaries of how society deals with issues that go beyond the playing field for generations. Film has also been a powerful way to reflect how society sees itself. We want HISFF to help continue the conversation, especially given everything that is going on in the world right now.
Were you surprised there wasn’t another platform to showcase sports films?
For independent filmmakers, film festivals are generally the platform to launch a story into the world and I was very surprised when I realized there wasn’t a stand-alone sports film festival. I quickly realized that filmmakers needed a major sports film festival to help launch their stories into the public consciousness. Since the formation of my idea, we have seen a consistent surge in audience appreciation for sports films, documentaries in particular. Professional athletes have started forming their own production companies and adding more exciting content to the mix.
The first annual Houston International Sports Film Festival debuts June 3-6, 2021.
Cover photo courtesy HISFF
Gabi De la Rosa lives in Houston with her husband and three children. Visit her on Instagram @gabioftheroses_htx