Gandhi at the Bat
directed by Stephanie
Argy & Alec Boehm
(Mental Slapstick, 2006)

In 1933, Franklin Delano Roosevelt arranged a secret trip to the U.S. by none other than Indian peacemaker Mohandas K. Gandhi. The clandestine visit was kept entirely secret -- except for a surprise outing to Yankee Stadium to watch the Yanks cream the Philadelphia Athletics. Gandhi, a curious and playful fellow, refused "the meat of a dog" from a ballpark vendor but ended up taking a turn at home plate, coached on by none other than the Sultan of Swat, Babe Ruth.

OK, not really. But Gandhi at the Bat is a short, independent film based on the story by Chet Williamson that assumes these events were true and reveals them through a grainy newsreel featurette.

The movie, all of 11 minutes long and filmed in period-appropriate black and white, is quirky and fun in its depiction of the reaction of "the nabob of nonviolence" to the all-American sport -- and, of course, the reaction of sluggers like Ruth (Britt Prentice), Lou Gehrig (Tom Hippler) and others to his cricket-style approach to the plate and the "energetic shuffle" with which "the Tiny Terror of Tealand" (Delfin Labao) rounded the bases.

Perhaps most surprising of all is the fact that the film was shot at a wee baseball field in Bakersfield, California, and the grandeur of Yankee Stadium was added digitally. Photos on the film's website show before and after pictures that dropped my jaw to the floor.

If theaters are going to give us 15 minutes of commercials before a movie, they should reinstate the pre-film featurette. Short independent clips like Gandhi at the Bat are exactly the sort of thing for the job.

by Tom Knapp
2 December 2006