Documentary Profiling NHL Pioneer Willie O'Ree to Make International Debut
Following an incredible world premiere response at Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival this spring, the largest documentary festival in North America, the festival circuit has been abuzz with talk of Willie, the inspiring documentary sharing the story of NHL legend Willie O'Ree. The thoroughly moving original documentary Willie will make its U.S. premiere this weekend at the carefully curated awards season film festival HUB on the east coast -- Middleburg Film Festival. Willie, programmed alongside such early hot ticket awards titles will next head to Los Angeles for DTLA Film Festival where this jewel of a documentary will be spotlighted for enthusiastic audiences.
On Saturday, October 19, the documentary will make its U.S. premiere at Middleburg Film Festival and its west coast premiere on Friday, October 25 in the heart of Los Angeles at LA LIVE at the DTLA Film Festival. WILLIE tells the incredible story of Willie O'Ree, who in 1958 became the first black man to play in the National Hockey League.
The film features never-before-seen home movie footage, original interviews, and first-person accounts from friends and family across North America. The film also features appearances by NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, NHL legend Wayne Gretzky, Dean of the MIT School of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences and expert on race and retrospective justice Melissa Nobles, NHL players Wayne Simmonds and Devante Smith-Pelly, National Women's Hockey League player and first overall pick Kelsey Koelzer and the Prime Minister of Canada, the Right Honourable Justin Trudeau.
Born in Fredericton, New Brunswick in 1935, O'Ree began his journey as the youngest of 13 children. A multi-sport athlete, his career path originally pointed toward professional baseball. But after experiencing segregation first-hand during a tryout in the U.S. during the Jim Crow era, he reconsidered his options and returned to hockey.
O'Ree turned to hockey. Despite being blind in one eye from an injury he suffered in 1956 and kept secret throughout his playing career, he made it to the National Hockey League. On January 18, 1958, O'Ree made his NHL debut, playing for the Boston Bruins against the Montreal Canadiens in the fabled Montreal Forum. He would go on to play two seasons in the NHL and more than 20 seasons of professional hockey.
A trailblazer who paved the way for the players of diverse ethnic backgrounds who have succeeded him in the subsequent 60 years, O'Ree was named NHL Diversity Ambassador in 1998. In the two decades since, he has helped establish 39 local grassroots hockey programs and inspired more than 120,000 boys and girls to play the game in its many forms. On November 12, 2018, having dedicated most of his life to hockey, he was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.
In association with the National Hockey League, the documentary was directed and produced by award-winning filmmaker, editor, and producer Laurence Mathieu-Leger. It was produced by Bryant McBride, who sought out and hired O'Ree while working for the NHL more than 20 years ago.
Watch a trailer here: