For the filmmakers behind the upcoming Netflix documentary "Team Foxcatcher," the project comes with a personal connection to the Penn wrestling program.
The film explores the 1996 murder of Olympic wrestler — and mentor to the Penn wrestling team — Dave Schultz at Foxcatcher Farm, then an Olympic training facility in Newtown Square, Pennsylvania. John Du Pont, the owner of the facility and heir to the Du Pont chemical fortune, was convicted of third-degree murder in connection to the case in February 1997, but was declared to be mentally ill. Du Pont died in prison in 2010. The story was also adapted into the Oscar-nominated 2014 film "Foxcatcher."
1998 College graduates Ben Hatta and Jeremy Bailer — two of the film’s executive producers along with Dave Schultz’s widow Nancy Schultz — were on the wrestling team at Penn. Six other Penn wresting graduates personally contributed to financing the film.
Hatta chose to enroll at Penn with Schultz's encouragement. He grew up near Foxcatcher facilities, where the Penn wrestling team trained on summer weekends.
“[Dave] was the one who was like, 'this is a cool school, right around the corner,' and I got introduced to the Penn wrestling coach that way, and actually checked out the campus that October,” he said.
Bailer was drawn to Penn by the opportunity to train alongside Olympic wrestlers like Schultz. Schultz trained with the team in preparation for the 1996 Olympic Games, both on Penn facilities and at Foxcatcher Farm, leading Bailer to consider Schultz a mentor for the Penn wrestling program when he joined in 1994.
“That’s how we were all familiar with the case. It was one of our mentors that got murdered,” Bailer said.
Schultz was killed on Jan. 26, 1996, six months prior to the Olympic Games. A memorial service was held for Schultz at the Palestra on Feb. 11.
1997 College and Wharton graduate and former Penn wrestling captain Clinton Matter, one of the film’s investors, expressed his hope that the film will preserve Schultz’s legacy.
“When [Hatta and Bailer] were trying to raise money on behalf of Nancy [Schultz] and the film, they naturally came to a group who knew Dave and who wanted to help enable his legacy to be seen in the proper light, in what he did as a competitor and the way he lived his life,” he said.
Director Jon Greenhalgh took note of the positive impact of Du Pont’s investment in Foxcatcher Farm and the sport of wrestling prior to the murder.
“During those Foxcatcher years, wrestlers were treated better than ever before and had the financing they needed to train without other full-time jobs, and American wrestling really flourished," he said. "But I think that was part of what made it so difficult for these guys to untangle themselves from a situation that ultimately led to tragedy.”
Team Foxcatcher premieres at the Tribeca Film Festival on April 18, and is available for streaming on Netflix starting April 29.
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