Film: Pingpong Tables Bring People Together
February 1, 2018
Patricia Dillon, The Houston Chronicle
An unlikely group of people, from the homeless to investment bankers to former gang members, are brought together by an unlikely source-pingpong.
The short film "The Tables" documents how a pair of pingpong tables in the middle of New York City, tucked away in the corner of Bryant Park, created a community comprised of people from a wide range of ethnic, economic and social backgrounds. The movie will be shown at the Inspire Film Festival, which runs from Feb. 15-19.
Wally Green, a former gang member and professional pingpong player, co-founded the SPiN New York nightclub that provides a fun social atmosphere for people to eat and play pingpong together. Green, along with SPiN New York, placed the two tables in Bryant Park as a marketing tool for the club when it opened, not realizing the larger impact it would have.
Jon Bunning, director of "The Tables," happened to pass by the pingpong tables in the park with a friend. The pair both love the game so they decided to check it out.
"I was immediately drawn to all the interesting characters that were playing there. It was so much diversity," Bunning said in a 2017 interview for the Art of Brooklyn Film Festival. "At first we just hung out to play, but that's when I discovered that there's a whole group of regulars that show up at night, and they're there all the time. They're this community and I knew there was something special about this place and decided to embark on creating a film about it."
In a director's statement online at thetablesfilm.com, Bunning says, "One of the first things that struck me about the tables in Bryant Park was that a homeless person and a Wall Street banker could play as equals. People from all over the world had been brought together by these tables. Social status, nationality, religion, age, sex-it didn't matter. And the more I got to know these people, the more I discovered just how much these tables meant to them. For some, it helped them to find work and a place to live, for others it helped them get off drugs, and for many it gave them a sense of community and belonging that helped them overcome hardships."
The film took about four years to complete and tells the story of the regulars who came at night and formed a community.
"It's pretty amazing to me. The sport of pingpong is my life. When I see these amazing different cultures of people, different backgrounds, different economic places and they all come together - it makes me really happy," Green said. "Everyone's just equal to each other."
Green, one of the subjects in "The Tables," grew up in the projects with domestic violence. At the age of 13 he was part of a gang and already owned six guns. He said the pingpong literally saved his life.
A benefactor saw that Green was heading in a bad direction, so the gentleman paid for him to go to Germany to play pingpong. Green has represented the US in over 35 international pro tour competitions and has won numerous national titles at different levels.
"If it wasn't for the sport of pingpong, I would be dead or in jail," Green said, just like most of his old friends from when he was younger. "All my friends now are all new friends through the sport of pingpong."
Green got involved with the film when someone informed him a person was filming players in the park. Green said he went over and met Bunning and asked, "Are you making a film about ping pong?"
Bunning replied yes and Green said, "Well, I'm going to make this film much better!"
"(Bunning) noticed that it formed this community of amazing people," Green said.
Green added that the sport is a great equalizer where background and experience doesn't matter.
"One thing that's important to know about pingpong is that pingpong is definitely one of the few sports where all cultures come together. I've traveled all over the world through pingpong ... including North Korea where only 10 percent of world has been. You can be poor, you can be rich, you can be a billionaire, but on the pingpong table everyone is equal."
Green said he is looking forward to visiting The Woodlands Township to see the film in February.
"It's great. I've been going to practically all the film festivals (where "The Tables" is screened). I go there, get to meet new people, get to talk about my passion for pingpong and how it saved my life," he explained. "I'm very excited. I love to talk about the sport. I love to talk about the film. It's something that's personal to me, so I'm ready."
The film represents reality and shows how people can connect through the a common passion, Green said, albeit with a warning that viewers may want to grab a box of Kleenex because the story really pulls at one's heart strings.
"(Viewers) should definitely get ready for something that's real. One thing about this film that makes it different is that it's 100 percent real. Everything in this film is real. Real stories, real life. Nothing's fake. It's very touching and it might make you cry," he said.
The Inspire Film Festival is in the planning process of offering up two pingpong tables in Central Park at Market Street for the community to play together during the festival. It will offer just a small taste of the camaraderie shown in the film.
"The Tables" will play free and open to the public shortly after sundown during the Shorts Film Night at Waterway Square on Feb. 15. Viewers are encouraged to bring a chair or blanket to sit on. Visit www.inspirefilmfest.com for exact start time and details as the festival draws closer.