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The Titan Rises Explores Gun Violence and High School Football amid a Pandemic

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The Titan Rises is a short documentary directed by Brian Wollitz following Skyline High's Football team as they navigate senior year, the pandemic, and the tragic loss of a teammate to gun violence.

About the Film - The Titan Rises

The Skyline High School football team in Oakland, California prepares for their delayed season amid the Covid-19 pandemic. For senior players, this season is one of their last shots at showcasing their talents to earn a college football scholarship, and an even more pressing opportunity to escape the violent threats surrounding them in their community. This documentary short follows head coach Joe Bates and the Titans as they navigate through playing football during the coronavirus pandemic, the life & death struggle of Oakland’s streets, and the toll it takes on these inner-city athletes.

Directors Statement by Brian Wollitz

At the beginning of the pandemic, I had the idea to do a feature story on athletes whose futures were in jeopardy because of the countless youth sports cancellations nationwide. With my prior experience as a high school sports reporter, I’ve seen just how important the final season can be for players who are on the brink of getting a shot to continue their athletics and education in college.

When I first met head coach Joe Bates of Skyline’s football team, he talked at length about how important sports are for his community in Oakland, California. Bates emphasized how he uses football as a central tool for youth development and a path for his players to achieve higher education and escape the systemic conditions and potentially violent threats surrounding them with inner-city influences.

Coach Bates explained that because of the pandemic, his team and players were even more adversely affected because of shutdowns and stay-at-home orders. To Bates, it was proving to be a great challenge to not only plan for a potential season but to more importantly stay connected with his team and provide mentorship when they weren’t able to be together during the pandemic.

Not long into filming, the entire scope of the project changed as a sudden tragedy hit the team, and illustrated what Bates talked so often about. I was forced to refocus my efforts, but in turn, it provided a deeper and more raw look into the life of Oakland’s communities, families, and the promising athletes they produce.

In all, it was a challenging experience producing, editing, and mostly shooting on my own, but I felt this allowed me to gain trust while creating a less distracting and better relationship with the team over the nine months I was following them.

I want to thank everyone who helped make this film a possibility – especially the 2020-21 Skyline football team and the Pryor family – for allowing me to learn and help share a glimpse of their struggles and successes during the pandemic.

Director Bio:

Brian Wollitz is a multimedia journalist, video producer, and filmmaker from Pacifica, California. His interests include reporting on the intersection of sports & social issues, food, music, art, and culture. His writing has been featured in The New York Times, The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate, The Rugby Journal, and OffBeat Magazine. He’s also worked in various production and reporting positions for ESPN, The Investigative Reporting Program, WVUE-TV FOX 8, and NOLA Gold Rugby. He earned his master’s degree from the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism.

Credit List of Cast & Crew:

Producer: Brian Wollitz
Director of Photography: Brian Wollitz

Additional Camera: Clara Mokri
Editor: Brian Wollitz
Creative Advisors: Andrés Cediel, Mike Shen
Content Advisors: Jon Reiss, Jeremy Rue

Technical Advisor & Colorist: Chris O'Dea


Joe Bates

Julian Jackson

Simeon Milan

Kweke Garth Jr.

Taijuan Pryor

Aria Patterson

Jason Santana

Mata Fifita

Composer & Original Score: Alexander Turk
Post Production Sound: Mark Escott, Phoenix Sound Design

Special Thanks:

Tiffany Winters

Jacqueline Winters

Patrick Walsh

James Salazar

John Sasaki

Franky Navarro

Anthony Petty

Skyline High School

Castlemont High School

Blackmagic Design

Canon USA

Archival Photos:

Tiffany Winters

Taijuan Pryor

Yolanda James, San Francisco Chronicle | Polaris Images

Archival Video:

Joe Bates

Mustafa Muhyee

Lamont Prince Jr.

Produced At:

The Graduate School of Journalism, University of California, Berkeley



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