Short of the Week

Dramedy Max Barbakow

The Duke: Based on the Memoir "I'm The Duke" by J.P. Duke

Mired in a concussed haze, an ex-NFL-player struggles to adjust to life off the field during Super Bowl Sunday.

The Duke: Based on the Memoir "I'm The Duke" by J.P. Duke

Whereas the playful title suggests that The Duke: Based on the Memoir “I’m The Duke” by J.P. Duke is based on secondary sources, such book doesn’t exist – and neither does the Duke himself. But he might as well have been an actual player who put his memoirs to the page.

The film tells the story of a former NFL-player who still believes he can have a professional contract and has to face his own hallucination-induced crumbling reality on Superbowl Sunday. By playing the Duke’s state of mind for comedic effect while showing the tragic downfall of a once promising football player, director Max Barbakow draws the viewer into the Duke’s world and keeps the audience on the edge of their seat with it’s non-linear narrative and visual implementation.

As Barbakow puts it, “I was excited by the challenge of creating a film that played like a football game, where a player suddenly gets knocked out, and we, as audience members, recoil in shock after previously relishing in entertainment.”

The fate of the titular hero represents many players battling with the long-term effects of their professional football career. The NFL is still actively fighting tests and facts about the devastating mental illnesses caused by concussions and similar pain-inflicted head injuries from playing the game, but the public awareness to this cause is continually growing. Also in part thanks to films like The Duke: Based on the Memoir “I’m The Duke” by J.P. Duke, which never ponders it’s issue or wants to shock the audience with statistics.

“It’s an issue that has incited investigations, procedural changes, equipment modifications and millions of dollars in settlements”, Barbakow explains, “but no matter how much you read or how many documentaries you watch about the long-term impacts of head trauma, none of this media successfully places you inside the mind of a football player afflicted with concussion-induced Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (or CTE). With The Duke: Based on the Memoir “I’m The Duke” by J.P. Duke, I wanted to capture the reality of what life might be like for these men whose condition results in depression, dementia, and, in the most basic sense, that foreign feeling of vulnerability.”

By focusing on one individual, regardless of whether this story is based on true events or not, the Duke is a surrogate who lets us see and feel his mental state from a first person perspective. His distorted world view and wandering mind are a testament to what it must be like to have your perception altered by numerous aggressive hits to the head.

“With The Duke, the idea of taking a behemoth of a man averse to showing weakness, and breaking him down to a place where he must confront his vulnerabilities seemed important”, says Barbakow, “especially when most guys in the NFL shun doing so while knowing they’re compromising their brains.”

The Duke: Based on the Memoir “I’m The Duke” by J.P. Duke is Max Barbakow’s thesis at the American Film Institute Conservatory. The filmmaker has already completed two other short films as well as working on a feature script that he plans on making next year.