Phil Schaff and the rest of the filmmaking crew and cast for "Don't Quit: The Joe Roth Story," didn't really know what to expect with regard to reception and attendance when the documentary made its debut Sunday.
The powerful film about the talented Cal quarterback, who's life was cut short because of melanoma, was part of the Newport Beach Film Festival and screened at Lido Theater. There was also a reception at Bluewater Grill down the street, where Schaff and the rest of those connected with the film reveled in the success of it.
Everyone knew it was a story that had to be told. Roth not only lived his life with the never-quit mentality, but he also lived life to its fullest, a message that resonated throughout the day.
"Here in Orange County I would have to think everything skews heavily USC," said Schaff, who was the documentary's writer and directed it with Bob Rider. "For people to sit through 85 minutes about a guy from Cal they never heard of is an honor. This from me, a guy who was just a link in a chain, to know that Joe got that kind of reception there are no words to describe it because you would never anticipate it. They did it genuinely. We are so grateful to the Newport Beach Film Festival. Leslie Feibleman and her staff, they just crushed it."
The documentary attracted many and filled the Lido theater with great emotion. I could not hold back the tears, especially when Tracy Lagos, a close friend of Roth's in college, read a handwritten card to her just before he died at age 21.
I was also searching for tissue when Mike White, who lives on Balboa Island, cried when talking about Roth. White coached Roth at Cal.
Just based on Roth's message alone I thought it was a story worth telling, but when you consider his true greatness as an athlete and his genuine personality off the field, it just made the film totally powerful. Inspiring for sure.
Roth was said to be a quarterback ahead of his time, that could be true in many more ways than one.
"To me the whole Joe Roth story is well worth documenting because of what he did and how he dealt with adversity," White said. "You need to consider all the things he had to deal with as a young athlete."
Schaff said he has been asked the question: Do you feel you know Joe?
"Oh heck no, but we do know what he meant to those who knew him," he said.
Schaff said it was an honor to make the film and the biggest reason for its success was because of Roth's family and those who knew him well.
"Joe was so private that people protected his story," Schaff said. "But once we got consent we were able to hear the story. The filmmaking part was just getting out of the way and let the people tell the story. There was joy in that. There are no cliches there. Those are authentic answers."
The documentary features former teammates and opponents, including former NFL coach and current analyst Tony Dungy and Robin Earl, a former University of Washington star running back who went on to fame as a Chicago Bear.
Earl attended the screening and shared that he named his third son after his late friend, calling the boy, "Roth."
Earl was quite the character at the screening, as he wore a Hula Bowl shirt that was part Hawaiian and part bowling. He was another example of what Roth's message was.
Earl as well as many others drew the same from the documentary.
Leigh Steinberg, the famous sports agent who is a Cal alum, also attended the screening.
"I thought it was sensational," said Steinberg, also a columnist for the Daily Pilot and Forbes. "Awe-inspiring. The core message to it is an invaluable lesson: live life to its fullest."
Schaff said he will keep trying to have the film screened at festivals, and hope for a larger distribution in the fall during football season.