It’s not unusual for athletes to cross over from the playing fields to the entertainment industry.
But some prefer a more behind-the-scenes, grassroots approach. For newly retired New York Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira, his involvement in the film world is not on camera in La La Land, but on the board of directors of the Greenwich International Film Festival, which celebrates its third season June 1 through 4.
Teixeira, a Greenwich resident, also serves as cultural ambassador of the organization, touring the Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital at Westchester Medical Center in Valhalla and Family Centers in lower Fairfield County for an episode of NBC’s “Give” that airs in April. Both nonprofits will be beneficiaries of a portion of the proceeds from the 2017 festival, and GIFF will have an advance screening of the program March 5.
“It’s a feel-good, makes-you-want-to-cry episode,” says Ginger Stickel, GIFF’s executive director, adding that it’s an honor to work for an organization whose films not only support charitable causes but shed light on the social issues of the day.
That’s the kind of pitch that appealed to Teixeira, who was known as a Yankee with a big heart.
“Wendy Reyes had mentioned something to me about putting together a film festival,” he says, referring to the festival’s co-founder and chairwoman. “She wanted my thoughts and to see if I wanted to help out. She told me the background of the festival was highlighting films that had social change aspects to them and that are not getting out otherwise. Plus, the dollars we created from the festival would go right back to the community. To me, that sounded like a great idea and we started spit-balling ideas a year and a half before the first festival took shape.”
GIFF premiered in 2015, and while Teixeira was a popular participant in a panel discussion at the event “Sports Guys on Sports Movies,” the main thrust of his work was away from the spotlight.
“I was always the connector,” he says. “When I was playing baseball, I was always busy, so I didn’t have a ton of time to be really involved from February to October. In the off-season, however, I would introduce people and I would send emails and see if friends that I have in the movie business were interested. Through that, I tried as much as I could to connect Wendy and Colleen (de Veer, the festival’s co-founder and programming director) with as many people as possible.”
As the festival approaches its third year, Teixeira is encouraged with it placing a strong emphasis on the business aspect of show business.
“Our goal is to be able to bring the business of moviemaking and moviemakers together,” he says. “Greenwich and the New York area are finance-central, and for the great scripts out there that haven’t been made, we want to bring the financiers of film and the filmmakers together. We want people to know that if no one finances films, films don’t get made. We found that big blockbusters are getting made by the big studios and small shoe-string independents are getting made, but the in-between films aren’t being made as much anymore.”
The 2017 festival will be back at the Bow Tie Criterion Cinemas at Greenwich Plaza. Teixeira views the big-screen viewing component as an important step in recovering the communal aspect of moviegoing that has been eroded by solitary viewing on laptops and cell phones.
“Going to the movies used to be an event,” he laments. “You would take your wife out for dinner or take your kids out for pizza and you’d make a whole night of it. It was a social event. The festival is helping to bring that back and helping to build the community aspect.”
Adding a little star power and exclusivity to the festival doesn’t hurt: Teixeira notes that major releases, including “Arrival,” “Entourage” and “The Big Short,” received festival screenings before going into theatrical release, and the festival’s Changemaker Award brought in Harry Belafonte and Mia Farrow in 2015 and actresses Abigail Breslin and Freida Pinto and producer Trudie Styler last year. Another well-received feature has been the meet-and-greets with film talent and audiences.
“The neatest thing for me is being able to share that with our supporters,” he says, beaming. “Every one of those pre-screenings are sold out. We have a little cocktail party and we usually have members of cast and crew come in before or after to talk about the film. The more we can do these type of things, the more people we can bring into the area.”
Teixeira adds that the festival’s philanthropic focus also helps to differentiate it from other film happenings. The proceeds from last year’s festival were allocated into $125,000 charity donations and $70,000 grants to up-and-coming filmmakers to help them fund their work.
As for a film career of his own, Teixeira has ideas for potential projects. “I would love to be part of a short film or a documentary,” he says. “I don’t know if I have a blockbuster or superhero movie in me. I would love to do something about sports and how it impacts culture, children and the world. Sports is the common theme that everyone can relate to. We all play and watch some sort of sports.”
The three-time Major League Baseball All-Star and member of the 2009 World Series champion Yanks admitted enjoying films that cover his former profession, citing “61*,” “42,” “Field of Dreams” and “Bull Durham” among his favorites. But he acknowledged being unfamiliar with what many consider to be the worst baseball film of all time, the 1948 error-riddled biopic “The Babe Ruth Story.” (Perhaps it’s just as well.)
Besides GIFF, Teixeira has also hosted a fundraising dinner for Greenwich’s Bruce Museum and immersed himself in a pair of youth-focused nonprofits — the Manhattan-based Harlem RBI and the Atlanta-based Emerald Corridor Foundation. That is when he isn’t trying to catch his breath. Retirement — he played his last game on Oct. 2 — is still new to him.
“I am going to try to rest as much as I can,” he says. “I am still trying to wind down from my baseball career. I am sorting through all my opportunities. I am getting calls every day to do all sorts of things, whether it is business-related or media-wise or philanthropy-wise. I want to make sure I am doing things that are socially impactful.”
For more, visit greenwichfilm.org.