NEW ROCHELLE, NY -- From the Rough, a film based on the inspiring true story of Coach Catana Starks, will be shown at the Regal New Roc Stadium 18 in New Rochelle on April 25th.
The film depicts Starks seemingly insurmountable journey to inspire a team of young athletes profoundly enough for them to believe in themselves and become champions – in their own lives.
“I believe what makes us successful is that one teacher, that one coach, that one mentor who at the right time, said something or did something that changed the course of our life and put us in the right direction,” says Michael Critelli, the film’s producer. “This film is an effort to celebrate everyday heroes, and for me, this story isn’t about golf, it’s about the essence of what makes people successful in all walks of life.”
Oscar nominee Taraji P. Henson agrees. In portraying Coach Catana Starks, Henson says she was attracted to the film because it dealt with actualizing one’s dreams, even against the odds. “What I hope people take away from this story is that you can do anything you want to, you just have to believe in yourself,” says Henson. “When you hit obstacles, you have to get over them and keep dreaming.”
Henson admits the idea of playing a living hero was quite intimidating, especially having Coach Starks visit the set during production. “She told me not to worry about how I walk and how I talk,” recalls Henson. “She said, ‘What’s most important to me is the empowerment of women.’”
Catana Starks made history as the first African-American woman to coach an all-men’s collegiate team, overcoming many obstacles and silencing many naysayers to bring them to an all-time record championship season. “I want this film to inspire women to do whatever they want to do,” says Starks. “I want them to believe in themselves and go out there and try new thing and don’t give up!”
Her “can do” approach to sports and life served Starks well during her challenging early days as head coach of Tennessee State University’s (TSU) first-ever golf team. TSU is an Historically Black College or University (HBCU) and offered Starks few, if any, African-American golf students to recruit. “I originally started my team with two injured football players, a woman and a few others,” recalls Starks. She later recruited international students for the team all the while being tasked with training and inspiring her underdog team of multi-cultural young golfers to win games, and eventually championships. It was a challenge for which Starks was uniquely suited. “Growing up in Mobile, Alabama, I was a sickly child who had asthma,” recalls Stark, “but my grandmother and mother encouraged me. The doctor said ‘I couldn’t,’ and they said ‘Yes you can!’” And she did. Starks swam, became a lifeguard and later taught collegiate swimming. She played baseball and golf. She even played the saxophone, an instrument heavily dependent on breathing. She became such a stand out that when her high school band leader made cuts, Starks became the only female musician in the band. Overcoming obstacles became her way of life. “Nothing bothered me,” says Starks. “If I wanted to do something, I just went on and did it.”
Starks profoundly simple “yes you can” approach to life, is what she imparted to her student athletes. “You can’t be afraid to try things that are difficult and different. You have to try what interests you and be happy you attempted it – even if it doesn’t work out.”
But as it turns out, things worked out exceptionally well for many of Starks TSU student alums. Her recipe of tough love and continuous encouragement helped many young men go onto high achievement in and out of sports. Sam Puryear became assistant golf coach at Stanford University and the first African-American to coach a major conference golf team, which he accomplished at Michigan State University. Puryear is currently director of golf operations at Queens University in Charlotte. Adrian Adams and Sean Foley, her first international students are both doing well; Adams owns an investment firm and Foley went on to become Tiger Woods’ swing coach. Robert Dinwiddie her student golfer from the UK, is currently competing on the European tour. Rob Reed, an injured football player and one of Starks’ early golf students, is now head football coach at Tennessee State University who recently took TSU to the NCAA playoffs for the first time since 1969.
Principal photography took place in New Orleans with director Pierre Bagley at the helm. The crew shot for nearly six weeks on location in and around the city at its public park, at English Turn Golf and Country Club, at the TPC Course (at which there will be a PGA Tour tournament on April 24-27, 2014), and at the Union Passenger Terminal where the upstairs became transformed into the set of TSU’s athletic department. A veteran filmmaker with long history of work with the Urban League, Bagley tells this slice of life story of transcendence from a most unexpected vantage point - golf. Bagley says he was pleased to tell this uplifting story of perseverance. “I have never played a hole of golf,” shares the director, “but this isn’t a golf movie. Golf is a metaphor for life.”
The film’s title, FROM THE ROUGH, is derived from the term referring to an area of the golf course outside smooth terrain. In other words, “the rough” is the hard to maneuver, unsavory area that makes things difficult to traverse. Starks recalls her team struggling to defeat their opponents during a major game in New Orleans where they were playing on Bermuda grass. “That was the problem, it was tough to maneuver and I knew we were the better team,” she recalls, “so we went out and practiced some more and we worked on putting and we came back and won that tournament.” The film uses this phrase in homage to Steve Ballesteros, one of the greatest golfers in history, who was unique in training and practicing hitting from the rough first, and then learning the easier shots later. FROM THE ROUGH is a fitting title for a film that deals with overcoming the uphill challenges that life places in our path.
“You’re your own worst enemy,” says actress and singer LeToya Luckett, who plays a student mentored by Coach Starks in the film, “but if you can get out of your own way, who knows how much you can accomplish.” In the film, Luckett’s character falls in love with one of Coach Starks golf students, played by actor Tom Felton, best known for his role as Draco Malfoy in the “Harry Potter” film series. The young English actor had been playing golf recreationally for about a year prior to accepting the role, and thoroughly enjoyed the sideline tweaks he received from Coach Starks when she visited the set. “It was fantastic,” says Felton. “She was incredibly learned and would see us swing and say ‘you need to pull this in on the inside and fix your grip.’”
FROM THE ROUGH is one of the last films to feature a performance by the late Michael Clarke Duncan. In it, Duncan, a Chicago native, portrays a quiet force at the university whose presence and constant encouragement helps Coach Starks recall her own strength, drawing upon it to succeed. “Roger doesn’t let anybody determine his worth but himself,” said Duncan, who was heartened by the film’s message of camaraderie as portrayed by a multi-cultural cast of characters. “This person’s white, this person’s from South Korea, this person’s from London, England…that’s doesn’t mean we all can’t get along and achieve something by working together as a team with a concerted effort. That’s what it’s all about,” Duncan shared.
In portraying a female coach heading an all-men’s golf team at a historically Black university with limited resources, Henson’s character faces some of her greatest roadblocks from TSU’s Athletic Director, portrayed by Henry Simmons, a native of Stamford, Connecticut. “He has much to prove and doesn’t see her as a vehicle to make those things happen,” says Simmons who enjoyed the challenge of playing Starks nemesis. “I know he’s butting heads with the heroine of the film,” says Simmons, “but in my eyes, he’s not a bad person.”
Throughout her experience working on the film, Henson says she was often reminded, “You can’t give up hope, because hope is everything.”
Catana Starks agrees. And her hope for women throughout the country who see the film is to always remember one thing. “Believe in yourself.”