12 Sep Meet the Directors: Lisa Lax and Nancy Stern Winters

The following interview is the first in a series from writer and former Olympic alpine skier, Carrie Sheinberg who is profiling the filmmakers behind our 2017 films.  

Lisa Lax and Nancy Stern Winters, identical twin sisters and co-founders of Lookalike Productions have been telling sports stories for the past 30 years. They have earned16 Emmy awards, a Peabody Award, a Cine Golden Eagle Award and countless other accolades for their in-depth coverage of just about every sport imaginable. But somehow, despite their diverse storytelling resume, the most successful and revered coach in the history of college basketball had never passed through their viewfinder. So when long-time friend and television host Robin Roberts approached them with the idea to tell the story of legendary Tennessee Lady Vol’s coach Pat Summitt (who had just been diagnosed with early on-set Alzheimer’s Disease), the sister team wasted no time getting to work.

The Lookalike Productions team originally made Pat XO in 2013 as part of ESPN’s Nine for IX documentary series commemorating the 40th Anniversary of Title IX. But the sisters couldn’t be more thrilled that their film – and the incredible story of Pat Summitt – has found yet another perfect fit as part of the Women Sports Film Festival.

WSFF: You two have been working in sports television and making documentaries for 30 years now, is it exciting to be part of an all-female sports film festival?

LP: It’s really cool. There have been so many more films made about women athletes and coaches in the past few years and we’re glad that’s finally being recognized. The fact that the films being selected are made by women directors is great. These are unique stories. They need to be told.

For people to have a chance to see a story about Pat Summitt – who was such an incredible example of a coach, a mother and a mentor – that will go a long way.

WSFF: How is your perspective different? What does a female director’s gaze bring to the story?

LP: For this story, not only are we obviously, women filmmakers, we also played three sports as students at Tufts [University]. So, we could relate to the experience and to [Summitt’s] players very closely. For women, playing sports at college was very different than the experience men had, especially in the ‘70’s and ‘80’s.

(Ex Tennessee basketball player) Michelle Marciniak speaks so reverently about her coach in this film and we could really feel the connection she and [Summitt] shared – much more so because we knew exactly what they were talking about. We had lived those experiences, too.

WSFF: Why was this particular story so important for you to tell?

LP: We grew up in sports television telling stories about the Olympics, Pro Tennis, the Tour de France, all of it. We profiled every kind of amateur, collegiate, professional athlete and coach. But in all of those seasons [we] never crossed paths with Pat Summitt. So, to have the opportunity to work with her – especially at this incredibly private and difficult time in her life – we were just so honored to be sharing her story. We feel so lucky to have had that chance to be with her.

Another reason this story held such a powerful connection for us was that our grandmother was diagnosed with early on-set Alzheimer’s. So that was also a huge part of the story for us. [Summitt] was at a very sensitive stage. She didn’t want many people around. She really needed to feel comfortable with us as filmmakers. And having lived through it with our own Grandmother, we really knew how to navigate that sensitivity. It was familiar to us.

WSFF: After 30 years of making films, how do the stories of female athletes stand out for you?

 A great story is a great story. Often though, a female athlete’s story will have an extra layer or two. Like [WNBA star] Ruthie Bolton. We recently did a story about her and how she sadly and heroically survived an abusive marriage while winning two gold medals at the Olympics. There are many, heroic sports stories to tell and women have overcome a lot to get where they are. It’s important for girls and women to hear those stories, too.

We also coach a girl’s high school varsity lacrosse team. Not many of the girls even knew who Pat Summitt was, or Billie Jean King for that matter. The younger generation needs to know about these women. The legacy of these women needs to be preserved. That’s why a festival like this one is so important and a platform like this is huge. If this festival was playing in New Jersey I would make every single one of our athletes go and see it all.

But not only girls! I want my son Danny to hear about Pat Summitt and know the importance of [Summitt] and Billie Jean King, and Ruthie Bolton, too.

WSFF: What are you working on now?

 LP: Right now, we are making a documentary for MSNBC about the Equal Rights Amendment. People think that’s a done deal but it’s not. The ERA was passed by Congress in 1972 but 45 years later, only 36 of the necessary 38 states have passed it. It’s still not part of the Constitution.

WSFF: So how do you choose your stories?

We choose our stories carefully. They have to have some sort of social and cultural significance. We like to tell stories that have somehow made a difference in the world.

Pat XO screens with the short film, Pat: A Legacy of Love on Saturday, September 30 at 2pm.  WNBA legend and UT Lady Vols alumni, Chamique Holdsclaw, will be in attendance for post-screening Q & A.  Tickets available here.

Image: Lisa Lax and Nancy Stern Winters, directors of Pat XO (Photo Courtesy of ESPN Films)