Undefeated, a documentary by TJ Martin and Dan Lindsay

On Tuesday, TJ Martin and Dan Lindsay’s documentary Undefeated was nominated for a best feature documentary Oscar, and their story is just as unlikely as the one they tell in the film.

Undefeated follows a Memphis, Tennessee, high school football team, the Manassas Tigers, as they rebound from last place under the tough love of coach Bill Courtney. It’s a classic come-from-behind story, and one you wouldn’t believe if it weren’t a documentary.

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But there are several other “Friday Night Lights” moments in the film, events that even filmmakers TJ Martin and Dan Lindsay couldn’t believe unfolded right before their eyes.

While both filmmakers claim a lot of it was the combination of gaining the trust of the team as well as just shooting a lot of footage, the film just seems to be the result of a lot of luck. From its being purchased by the Weinstein Company at its SXSW premiere in March 2011 to its Oscar nomination announced days ago, the film has been enjoying extraordinary success. The Oscar nomination is particularly amazing taking into account that an opening date hasn’t even been announced for the film.

Though they’ve had a number of very good breaks, filmmakers Martin and Lindsay remain humble. Lindsay had this to say about the Oscar announcement:

“The nomination is totally surreal. I mean, a year ago today we were crammed in our little editing space cutting Undefeated, a film we weren’t sure anyone would ever see. And now a year later we are headed to the Academy Awards. Crazy!”

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The guys have kept their sense of humor throughout as well. When the VH1 website accidentally used a photo of former vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin, the subject of two documentaries (Nick Broomfield’s You Betcha! and the similarly titled The Undefeated) Lindsay shared that he got a good laugh when someone tweeted, “My disappointment that BILL CUNNINGHAM was robbed of a nomination made worse by my thinking that UNDEFEATED was the Sarah Palin doc!”

The filmmakers told me how much they felt like the young men in their film. Martin recounted how it was as though the filmmakers has been transported back to their high school days, going to school every morning and attending classes. “And then that all of a sudden stops. So you felt like you lost a sense of your peers and your community. And that goes for the greater community too. I felt like we got close to the kids fairly early on. Then, once people saw that we were OK and were there for some time, they befriended us as well. Once we left, it was a real void in our own lives”

In the video clip below, the filmmakers tell me more about their “intimate approach” into the lives of high school students that turned into something more:

UPDATE: Undefeated has a theatrical release date: Friday, February 17, 2012, in New York and Los Angeles.

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Guest blogger Adam Schartoff is a freelance film journalist living in Brooklyn, New York. He's the founder and programmer of the Brooklyn-based film series Filmwax.