'Mibsters' takes aim at capturing marbles shooting tradition here

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About eight years ago, Jeff Eddings' oldest son, Ben, came home from first grade at Phillips Elementary School with the news that he won a marbles competition.

That victory led him to a spot in the Allegheny County marbles competition and then, years later, to a berth at the National Marbles Tournament in Atlantic City, N.J.

It also introduced Mr. Eddings to the characters and lore of marbles competition. "I found myself going to New Jersey for this national tournament and it just blew me away," he said. "I thought, 'Somebody should make a film about this.' "

'Mibsters: A Marble Story'

When: The documentary premieres at 2 p.m. Saturday at the Heinz History Center, free with admission to the center.

Saturday, that film arrives. Mr. Eddings' documentary, "Mibsters: A Marble Story" will premiere at the Heinz History Center. The movie follows three boys -- his sons Ben and Sam and their friend Brandon Matchett -- in their quest to win the national marbles championship.

"In the age of video games, are there still kids who play marbles," asks the movie. In Allegheny County and a few other pockets nationwide, the answer is definitely yes.

Allegheny County has a rich history in marbles competition; the county has had an active marbles program for decades and in a five-year span ending in 2008, the national marbles champion was from Allegheny County.

The movie shows marbles practice in a backyard on the South Side Slopes, with a marbles ring that has been installed there overlooking the city skyline. It shows the annual county competition at the Allegheny County Courthouse, which includes titles for pint-sized "Little King" and "Little Queen."

And it shows a week at the National Marbles Tournament in Wildwood in the summer of 2011 -- then the tournament's 88th year -- as Pittsburghers face off against competitors from Colorado to West Virginia.

The making of the movie was nearly as unlikely as a modern-era marbles competition itself.

Mr. Eddings has a degree from Point Park University in theater arts, but had never been involved in moviemaking. He works full-time as the pastor of the Hot Metal Bridge Faith Community on the South Side.

A member of his church, Justin Nixon, was an aspiring director who had graduated from Point Park with a degree in cinema and digital arts. In February 2011, the two were sitting at Big Dog Coffee on the South Side when Mr. Eddings brought up the topic of a marbles documentary.

Another customer at the cafe overheard the conversation and expressed interest in giving money for the project. And that's how the movie got started. Initially they envisioned just a 10-minute "cool YouTube-y video," said Mr. Eddings, but as they delved deeper into the project, they decided to make a full-length documentary.

A fundraising campaign on the website www.kickstarter.com provided most of the movie's $5,000 to $6,000 shoestring budget. For the week that the movie shot in New Jersey, the crew slept in a school bus Mr. Nixon used while his band was touring.

The moviemakers ended up with far too much footage for the film, and three weeks of shooting was followed by a year and half of editing. In addition to the stories of the three boys competing at marbles, the movie also includes interviews with a marble manufacturer and several animated marble stories -- including a great one of a nun who received special dispensation to keep her winning shooter marble when she gave up her worldly possessions.

Mr. Eddings and Mr. Nixon submitted the movie to a few film festivals last year and were not chosen. They plan to enter a few more this year and also to take the movie to the Allegheny County marble tournament and the National Marbles Tournament.

At the least, the filmmakers are happy to tell a Pittsburgh story.

"One family had four generations of people at the tournament -- it's just been handed down," said Mr. Nixon. "It's another fun thing about Pittsburgh that's gotten overlooked."

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Anya Sostek: asostek@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1308.


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