I first heard about Through These Gates in March 2012. My first reaction was fairly negative, as I stated:
Is this a sign that the documentary won't be covering any new ground, or that the producer felt like going with the familiar was the best route?
That reaction was largely due to the teaser starting out with "The Code", more commonly known as the "Husker prayer" or the pregame prayer that's become famous for being the last thing the football team does before they take the field.
With Through These Gates, director Ryan Tweedy takes us on an 85-minute journey of discovery about ourselves. Tweedy is a film editor in Los Angeles, a place that can't be mistaken for Nebraska regardless of whether or not you could build a set and sound stage to resemble it. Tweedy asks "What is a Cornhusker? What does that even mean?"
It's a question that puzzles Tweedy so much he sets out on a journey to find out who we are. It is the same journey that my college roommate, Roger Aden, took when writing his book Huskerville.
I'm glad this film was made by an ex-pat. Feelings about Nebraska are much stronger when you've left. You might have thought the place was slow and boring when you're living there, but after you've left you realize how blessed you are to have been born and grown up in the state. You always feel like a piece of you is missing. That feeling is difficult to understand if you've spent your entire life in the state. You can get that piece back for a while if you get to a Husker gameday, whether it be in Lincoln or on the road, which is probably why Husker fans travel so well.
It's a movie about Nebraska and about the people of Nebraska so somewhere there has to be a shot of an old farmer. Somewhere there has to be a shot of a tractor that hasn't been used in 50 years, the same one that shows up in every commercial everywhere that features farmers.
As part of his journey Tweedy interviews quite a number of people associated with Nebraska football.
There are plenty of stories from regular fans. There are celebrities, such as Dan Whitney/Larry the Cable Guy, astronaut Clayton Anderson; media personality Kent Pavelka, and uber Husker fans such as Paul Favela/Husker Sombrero Guy, Kent Titze/Herby Husker guy along with internet personality David Max. Football players and coaches abound: Tom Osborne, Charlie McBride, Milt Tenopir, Jason Peter, Johnny Rodgers, Derrie Nelson, Jerry Tagge, to name a few.
It's a film about a whole gob of people that turns out to be quite personal.
When you're presented with the photo of Brook, you are reminded of just what a good-looking and fine young man he was. You are aware of what was lost - what Brook could have become with the rest of his life ahead of him.
Andy Hoffman discusses Husker fans rallying around his son Jack while he struggled with pediatric brain cancer, and how well Rex Burkhead and Jack hit it off immediately as if the creation of Team Jack and the fan support were something simply waiting to happen.
The interview and moments with Jan Berringer are easily the highlight. When you're presented with the photo of Brook, you are reminded of just what a good-looking and fine young man he was. You are aware of what was lost - what Brook could have become with the rest of his life ahead of him. Then you hear from his mother and the result is very touching, rather painful, and in the end presents us with the realization that all this worry about four losses a season is just silly.
Herbie Husker guy Kent Titze making the point that you could be anywhere in the world, and when you meet someone else from Nebraska you're automatically family.
Tenopir's admittance that Nebraska football is a religion.
The praise from Northwestern University President Morty Shapiro regarding Husker fans sportsmanship after Nebraska lost 28-25 in 2011.
The break down of population per national championships is very well down. FIVE NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIPS!
Barry Switzer talking about fans wishing Oklahoma "Good luck today".
The key to the movie is that there's a piece of it that every Husker fan can identify with. Many will identify with most of it.
It is cheesey? Yeah, it's cheesey. Is it self-indulgent? Yes and no. Not so much for Tweedy, who does a pretty good job of including himself in "us" without the movie becoming too much about him. For Husker fans, it's self-indulgent. It is a celebration of us. It enforces the "Greatest Fans in College Football" signs - signs that
I am on record as hating and that I continue to hate.
Do I hate this movie? Absolutely not. It is a wonderful experience, something I'd encourage every Husker fan to see.
Through These Gates is billed as a movie about Husker fans. I'd argue with that premise. For me it's a movie about home. I'm sure there are many many others who will feel the same.
Where's home? Home is Nebraska, no matter where you happen to be at the time.
Ryan Tweedy's movie can be purchased on DVD from Huskerfilm.com and Huskermax.com. They will ship November 1st, just in time for you to give out as stocking stuffers for Christmas. The movie (film?) is currently touring the country. If you get the chance, go see a screening. It will capture a piece of home, if only for a while.