By Robert Stoneback
The Danville News
— LITTLE ROCK, Ark. - A Danville native will have his second film premier this week at the Little Rock Film Festival.
The movie, which will play May 18, is a sports documentary titled “The Identity Theft of Mitch Mustain,” and follows the decorated former college football player after he left the University of Arkansas team.
“He’s one of the most polarizing guys you could ever know of,” said filmmaker Matt Wolfe. Mustain, an Arkansas native, was the first high school player to be named the Gatorade, USA Today and Parade high school player of the year. Mustain was considered one of the top players in the state when he decided to enroll in the University of Arkansas, in part because they had hired his high school football coach, Gus Malzahn, to be one of their lead coaches. Mustain started in eight games his freshman year and won every one, said Wolfe.
However, behind the scenes there was tension between Arkansas’ head coach and the newly hired Malzahn, who was getting a lot of credit for the university team’s victories, said Wolfe. Mustain was benched later that year and “essentially never plays again at the University of Arkansas. After that, the writing was on the wall,” said Wolfe. Malzahn left the university shortly after, followed by Mustain, who transferred to the University of Southern California.
“The prodigal son left,” said Wolfe, and since then a lot of Arkansas sports fans have resented him.
“Whether he was justified in leaving the University of Arkansas doesn’t get looked into enough,” said Wolfe. “When you sit down with him you realize he’s not a bad guy whatsoever.”
Wolfe started work on the film in December of 2011 and observed Mustain through several months of his life. Mustain, who plays for the Arena Football League today, showed Wolfe where he went to college at USC allowed him to follow him through the process of trying out for the Chicago White Sox minor league baseball team. Mustain also showed Wolfe his hometown of Fayetteville, Arkansas. The film also includes interviews with ESPN college football commentators.
“It hasn’t been hard labor by any means, it’s just been somewhat of an organic process,” said Wolfe. “Watching his (Mustain’s) progression as a person has been the most rewarding part. And while he’s still an athlete today…he’s also a more well-rounded person.”
The film took longer to make than Wolfe intended, but that gave him the chance to include some people who otherwise would not have been in the movie. Thanks to the extra filming time, the film will now be narrated by former head University of Arkansas basketball coach Nolan Richardson. “He’s an Arkansas icon,” said Wolfe. “Not only did I look up to him, but his voice means a lot in this state.”
The film will also feature music composed by Grammy-winning artist and Arkansas native David Hodges.
While football is at the root of the story, it’s not really a sports movie, said Wofle. “It’s ultimately a human interest story.”
Wolfe’s first film, a dramatic feature called “Left/Right,” was partially filmed in Danville locations, including Mulberry’s, Pappas, Studio Brick and the Danville High School gym. It also featured several Danville residents. “Left/Right” won 11 film festival awards.
Email questions or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.