The Festival

The second annual Houston International Sports Film Festival will be Feb. 3-6, 2022!

Throughout his career Festival Founder, Josh Merwin has passionately told stories through the mediums of photography and film. While looking for an interesting and impactful athlete story he found Carson Kainer, a University of Texas baseball player who needed a kidney transplant to save his life and allow him to chase his dream of playing professional baseball.

Josh documented Kainer and his family for over 10 years. Hoping to make a major impact for organ donor awareness, Josh knew he needed a platform to generate awareness for not only the film, but also the importance of organ donation. Josh realized one main issue… there was not a major sports film festival in the U.S. Knowing there were more filmmakers like himself that needed a festival platform to launch their projects, Josh decided to start a sports film festival in his hometown of Houston as it was the perfect location to launch this endeavor. In addition to supporting organ donation, the ISFF (International Sports Film & Festival) will have tracks of programming that will highlight important topics in the world of sports. We will use film as an educational tool to help carry on the conversation as we lead up to the festival in 2022.

2022 Films

A group of like minded individuals take on a fitness and mental challenge like never before. Following the group through the process to find out something new about yourself in the end.
The remarkable true story of the North American Soccer League. A colorful, fast paced, fly by the seat of your pants professional soccer league that attracted world legend Pele, and created America’s first soccer boom!
IVAN’S GAME is a biographical documentary which covers the life story of one of the greatest Croatian football players of all time: Ivan Gudelj. The film follows Ivan’s meteoric rise and the tragic end of his career at the height of his fame when he got ill from hepatitis B virus that nearly killed him. It is a story of an exceptional man who lost everything because of the illness, but eventually won his life’s game.
After a fifth place finish in the Giant Slalom at the 2018 Winter Olympics, Italian athlete Marta Bassino gets back into the skis in 2019 and 2020 to get closer to her dream of winning the Giant Slalom World Cup. Supported by her family and the Salomon family, Marta(25) intends to write her name among the greatest.
​​As part of a corporate social responsibility program, students in a government school in Madappally (India) are awarded sports kits. As a Saturday morning dawns in the coastal small town, the children – 7 boys and 4 girls – set out eagerly to play their game of cricket, much to the amusement of those who they meet along the way. It is during their journey to the playground that morning that they learn that empathy, leadership, and sportsmanship are more important than bat-and-ball games. And that adults would gain much more if they would practice the values that they preach to children.
A team of middle-aged women, who have never considered themselves athletes, head to the remote Australian outback to test their physical and mental limits in a desert ultramarathon. Back-of-pack endurance athlete, Cath, has found training for and taking part in ultramarathons to be life-changing. Wanting others to share this transformative experience, she decides to recruit a team of ‘unlikely adventurers’ from around Australia to train and compete in a desert ultramarathon. Eighteen women join team ‘Normal People Would Drive’, united by their desire to challenge their own belief that they are not ‘athletes.’
“One Last Drop” takes a deep dive into the journey of Ryan Stock hitting rock bottom. Through moments of reflection we see how life, love, athletics and alcohol intermingle in a destructive manner spiraling to the exact moment that began it all in the first place.
Many football players suffer from anxiety, distress or frustration as a result of COVID-19 pandemic. What are their personal feelings and thoughts?
Featuring: Ciro Immobile (SS Lazio), Miralem Pjanic (FC Barcelona), Alex Sandro (Juventus FC), Antonio Rudiger (Chelsea FC), Mauricio Pochettino (PSG), Aleksander Ceferin (UEFA President), and others.
A personal walk through the history of the BM Granollers’ club, one of Spain’s most successful handball clubs, based in Granollers, Spain. The county’s journalist Eloi Vila, wonders through the 75 years of the club’s history, including the first women´s and men’s teams introducing the audience to a sport they may not know about.
“The Roots of Lacrosse” provides a brief history of the sacred and cultural aspects of the game lacrosse and its roots in North American Indigenous nations. The viewer will be brought through the origins of the game, how it was played for the Creator as well as see the three types of North American Indigenous lacrosse.
Tennis, being one of the most difficult individual sports to succeed in, brings more than 100,000 competitors into its junior tournaments alone and produces less than 300 prospects from that pool to play in professional tournaments in the U.S. “This Is My Tennis” takes the viewer through the full spectrum (ie. hardships and sacrifices) of what goes into becoming a top prospect in the U.S. where only the strong will survive.
Voice of the Game is a profile of Manfred Schellscheidt, a German immigrant who came to play and teach soccer in one of the game’s last frontiers, America. He may well be the least known, most important coach in American soccer history.
As a kid, Ben dreams of reaching the level of his favorite athletes, who have become legends today. During his ski descent, he finds himself sharing his ride with the greatest. This descent will go viral on the internet, provoking the craze of future generations, all curious to see such a sharing.
Yasmeen Salhani is on a mission to achieve greatness by shattering stereotypes about women, especially those of Arab and Muslim heritage. She uses her courage, faith, and commitment to her craft to pursue her dream of becoming a professional fighter.

2021 Films

In the 1920s the two brothers Adolf and Rudolf Dassler start manufacturing sport shoes. Adolf is a talented craftsman and his dream is that one day all the best sportsmen in the world will wear his shoes. Rudolf on the other hand is the economical brain of their business, handling sales and marketing. After World War II, they continue producing shoes but the relationship between the two brothers starts to deteriorate. Both of them claim the company to be theirs, leading to an ever growing rivalry. A rivalry still existing today, represented by two of the most popular sports brands.

Althea Gibson, a truant from the rough streets of Harlem, emerged as a most unlikely queen of the highly segregated tennis world of the 1950’s. Say the name Althea Gibson to most people and you’ll met a blank stare. However, no player overcame more obstacles to become a champion, the first African-American to play and win at Wimbledon and Forest Hills, a decade before the great Arthur Ashe, only to be shunned by the Tennis Establishment. He roots as a sharecropper’s daughter, her family’s migration north to Harlem, her mentoring from Sugar Ray Robinson, David Dinkins and others, her fame that thrust her unwillingly into the glare of the early Civil Rights movement, all bring the story into a much broader realm of African-American History.
“Atypical” tells how the 2019-20 season of the Venezuelan Professional Baseball League took place under the planning of a new board of directors in an environment full of uncertainty.
“And now what?” is what many wonder about the future of the league, because the teams Tigres de Aragua and Navegantes del Magallanes are still sanctioned by OFAC and the Coronavirus pandemic has unleashed many more doubts.
The pitcher for the Outlaws is released earlier than anticipated. Upon being released the excitement he had earlier slowly fades as he realizes he’s missing the big game.
Blink of an Eye chronicles the star-crossed relationship between Michael Waltrip, the losingest driver in all of sports, and Dale Earnhardt, the most feared & iconic driver in NASCAR history.
This documentary directed by filmmakers Jeff and Michael Zimbalist, gives the audience an exclusive insight into a global student 5v5 Soccer Tournament and the lives of five aspiring athletes from around the world. With behind-the-scenes access, the content brings viewers high-octane, exciting portraits of sacrifice and passion, exploring what it takes to be a champion – both on and off the pitch. The episodes feature the stories of five athletes: Yahya Sabbar (Italy), Rodrigo Alpizar (Mexico), Gisela Robledo Gil (Colombia), Daniel Zabala (Argentina), and Flavia Alonso De Carvalho (Brazil).
After losing the water polo Junior Olympics in an overtime shootout, the Harvard-Westlake Wolverines must prove that they can overcome their mistakes if they want another run at the championship. Cap Up is the never-before-told story of an elite high school water team’s journey for redemption, set in the toughest place to play water polo in America.
A sports mockumentary about the controversial life of notorious U.S. Ski Team superstar, Rex Chadwick. Through a series of interviews with Rex, family, friends, lovers, and other professional athletes, the story of a sports legend that “could have been” takes shape. From extreme highs, to devastating lows, how can the human spirit rise from the depths of tragedy?
Former number one tennis player of Cameroon, Joseph Oyebog, is transforming his home country through the sport of tennis. He teaches tennis lessons in Fairfield County during the summer months and then travels back to Cameroon for the second half of the year. He is building bridges between West Africa and Connecticut but is torn between raising his own children here in the U.S. and building his tennis empire back home.
19-year-old Emre, who dreams of coming 1st, 2nd or 3rd place in the Turkish Championship, is looking for support to facilitate the difficult life he has, because he has to work as a waiter. Emre wants to find a sponsor and leave his job to focus on boxing, but the conditions do not favor Emre. Emre has to work as a waiter and prepare for the Turkish championship at the same time.
The story of a woman athlete from Iran who is trying to get back in the fields from her accident. She faces deprivation because she does not agree to compete with hijab in international events and she must confronts its aftermath.

FOREMAN is the definitive feature documentary on legendary boxer and pitchman George Foreman. Framed around his improbable comeback, it begins with his journey from “the Bloody Fifth” in Houston, one of the most violent and dangerous neighborhoods in America, to Olympic gold and the heavyweight championship.
While playing baseball for the University of Texas, Carson Kainer’s struggle with kidney disease jeopardizes his lifelong dream of playing Major League Baseball. In need of a kidney transplant, Carson’s life is saved when his father, Ron, is a perfect match, stepping up to the plate as Carson’s organ donor. Armed with a healthy kidney, Carson is given a second chance at life and baseball as he plays for the Cincinnati Reds Organization. “A Gift For Life” is an inspiring film about an athlete’s will to succeed, the importance of family and keeping hope alive.
As told by over 20 Basketball Hall of Famers, this documentary profiles the 60-year friendship between two of the greatest basketball icons in history – Bill Sharman & Dennis Murphy, pioneering visionaries who collectively changed the game of pro basketball as we now know it. From the 3-point shot, to morning shoot-arounds, to the creation of many pro teams, and to allowing players to leave school early, these two historical figures not only changed the game of basketball but were critically responsible for helping to make the profession of pro basketball into the multi-billion dollar business it is today.
As the premier franchise in the Continental Basketball Association from 1982 to 1992, the Albany Patroons left an indelible mark on the city of Albany, the CBA and the NBA. From elite coaches like Phil Jackson, Bill Musselman and George Karl to standout players like Michael Ray Richardson, Mario Elie, Tony Campbell, Sidney Lowe, Rick Carlisle and Scott Brooks, the Patroons’ legacy continues to shape the world of professional basketball. We are working to bring you the untold story of the Patroons’ quick rise, championship success and ultimate downfall. Beyond the franchise’s ups and downs, the stories of the individuals involved, from fans, to executives to coaches and players are implausible, hilarious and inspiring.
On December 4 th, 2019, the professional Wheelchair tennis player Gustavo Fernández being number 1 in ranking, resigned his nomination for the Olimpia awards. His commitment leads us to reflect on the differences with which the sport performed by people with disabilities is measured.
Fresh off a devastating defeat, a professional athlete close to retirement puts it all on the line
to compete with the best extreme sports athletes in the world.
Nonstop Flight: The Untold Story of FC Cincinnati” is a documentary about how an idea to start a professional sports franchise turned into reality in a very short period of time. The club was built from the ground up, set numerous minor-league soccer records in 3 short years before its selection into Major League Soccer in record-time. This documentary recalls the biggest moments in FC Cincinnati’s five-year history and how it accomplished so much with so little.
72 Days, 39 Riders, One World: A Film by Burton. Whether you’ve been here all along or you’re dropping in for the first time, the bond of snowboarding spans the globe and connects us all. Danny Davis, Anna Gasser, Mark McMorris & more.
Outraged is a UEFA original documentary exploring different types of discrimination in football (soccer). It centres around the topic of exclusion based on ethnicity, gender, refugee background and sexual orientation. Through the personal experience of the biggest names in football, the state of discrimination in the game is examined.
When faced with tremendous obstacles, Sir Philip Craven holds true to his principles. This film explores how the former president of the International Paralympic Committee used these principles as a compass to guide the world’s largest adaptive sports organization to become a global leader for social change.
RAYMOND LEWIS: L.A. LEGEND tells the true story of the mythical basketball legend from Watts California who was blackballed from the NBA in the early 70’s following an ugly contract dispute with the Philadelphia 76ers as a rookie. The film features exclusively uncovered archival footage dating back over 50 years, along with a deep array of over 45 personal interviews that tell the incredibly strange and heartbreaking tale of a once-in-a-generation talent who was shunned by a game he was destined to dominate. Part historical recovery, part deep personal excavation, the film takes the viewer on a moving ride through one of the sport’s least known, but perhaps most incredible personal journeys of all time. Steeped in the unique history and imagery of South Central Los Angeles and the tumultuous civil rights movements of the late 60’s and early 70’s, L.A. LEGEND offers a unique reflection of the racial justice movements happening today in both sports and U.S. society. Featuring interviews with Dr. Harry Edwards, Jerry Tarkanian, Reggie Theus, Sonny Vacarro, Lorenzo Romar, Michael Cooper, Gene Shue, Pat Williams.
‘Sleeping Warrior’ is a feature documentary about the first female African Lacrosse team. We follow these young women from their homes in Kenya to the World Championships in Canada and see how an unimaginable opportunity transforms their humble lives. From getting their first passports, to discovering how their friends and families react , we learn how the power of sport changes these young women. There is heartbreak, joy and always strength of spirit.
During the course of filming, one player discovered that her deceased mother might be alive after all, so we follow her dramatic journey to find her real family. The title comes from a mountain the girls train under in Kenya called ‘Sleeping Warrior’ and these young women are so strong, yet have been oppressed their whole lives, they are truly warriors.
A filmed account of the Zaire 74 soul music festival, originally intended to be in concert with the famous Rumble in the Jungle bout in Kinshasa, Zaire in 1974.
A family in rural Minnesota transforms their expansive front yard into a magnificent ballpark for a game they created based on traditional American baseball. This is the story of how the game evolved and an exploration of the extraordinary moments and culture it has created.
What would the world be like if sports were different? Tapeball has the answer.
22-year-old wheelchair fencer, Victoria “Tori” Isaacson, is on a multi-year journey to the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics; but time is not on her side. Her greatest opponents: a degenerative disease, mounting debt, crushing self-doubt and an unexpected global pandemic. Will her years of athletic discipline arm her as she battles, alongside her coaches and family, to reshape her future?
A documentary of the 1974 heavyweight championship bout in Zaire, “The Rumble in the Jungle,” between champion George Foreman and underdog challenger Muhammad Ali.
A play on the famous Notorious BIG line that explores the relationship between rappers, hoopers and the streets…
A narrative of the life, feelings and dreams of the fans of the Borussia Dortmund football team in Germany, thousands of kilometres away from their homeland
They have found each other and watch the games together. They laugh at the victory of their favourite team and shed tears when they lose.
They have given new meaning to their lives with their love for Dortmund and their yellow-shirted players.
A pure, innocent and of course one-sided love.

About Josh

Josh Merwin has always viewed the world through different eyes. Weighing 4 pounds at birth, he was always smaller than his friends and constantly looking up at the world around him. At 8-years old, Merwin found a $20 bill on the ground and was looking for the perfect toy to spend it on.  Disappointed that he couldn’t find the perfect toy, Josh’s eyes lit up seeing a Polaroid camera. Since that moment, Josh has captured the world from his unique perspective.

Merwin brought his passion for photography to the University of Colorado by studying Journalism & Film. Moving forward he combined his mom’s passion for photography and his dad’s love of sports to build his own passion for telling sports stories. This would define both his career path shooting for Sports Illustrated, ESPN the Magazine and the New York Times. Most people would think that Josh’s story would end there because he had achieved his dreams, but he just kept dreaming bigger. 

After spending 15 years as a photographer and filmmaker in NYC, Josh returned to Houston in August of 2020 to launch the Houston International Sports Film Festival. It would also allow him to help other creatives chase their dreams. The platform we have created will celebrate stories of athletes in a way that can not only benefit the community, but also be a way to encourage movement through sports entertainment.

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Need to connect with us?

Festival Founder:

Josh Merwin – josh@hisff.org

Festival PR Contact:

Bianca Bucaram – bianca@bucaramprg.com | bucaramprg.com