Brothers Jeremy and Jerome Thompson grew up in two worlds--two cultures. As members of the Onondaga Tribe, the brothers grew up in the sovereign Onondaga Nation, located a few miles south of Syracuse, N.Y. In Lukas Korver’s latest documentary, The Medicine Game, Korver captures the unique bicultural lives of the Thompson brothers as they prepare to transition from high school to college, all while making a name for themselves as two of the best lacrosse players in America.
“Lacrosse is their dream,” Korver said. “It’s their life.”
The Medicine Game’s existence is the result of coincidence and Korver’s enthusiasm for sports. Jason Halpin, the film’s co-producer, was interested in doing a documentary on the tradition of legendary Native Lacrosse players--many from the Onondaga Nation--playing for collegiate lacrosse powerhouse Syracuse University. When Korver was presented with the idea, he thought the film should focus on an individual or family.
“I’m a sports nut,” he said. “I love anything that has to do with sports.”
When it came time to find the focus of the film, Korver went to his high school teacher brother who taught biology at the same high school attended by the Thompson brothers. Based on the encouragement of the school’s lacrosse coach, Korver’s brother approached the Thompson brothers after class one day, asking if they wanted to be in a documentary.
“They shrugged their shoulders and said, ‘yeah sure,’” Korver said, recalling his brother’s account of the nonchalant Thompson brothers.
From that casual agreement, Korver, who lives in Los Angeles, flew to New York state to meet the Thompson brothers and to begin shooting video of their lacrosse games and practices. After one of the games, the brothers’ father, Jereme, invited Korver and Halpin over for pizza. The friendship blossomed and six weeks later Korver was living at the Thompson house with Jeremy, Jerome, their two younger brothers and parents. Korver stayed for three months to film Jeremy and Jerome’s senior year season of high school lacrosse.
“I didn’t have a car there so they called me the fifth Thompson brother,“ Korver said. “I fell in love with the family.”
During the Thompson brothers’ sophomore and junior years of high school, they led their school’s lacrosse team to back-to-back state championships. Based on the success, many people, including Korver, assumed they would win the state championship again.
During the playoffs of their senior year, the undeniably close brothers had a shockingly out-of-character fight in the school parking lot. Jeremy shoved Jerome’s head through a car window, breaking his jaw. Nobody saw the fight coming including the brothers themselves, Korver said.
Jerome couldn’t play in their next playoff game and Jeremy was unable to perform without his brother on the field. The team lost, ending their chances at a third consecutive championship. It would take two years before the brothers’ relationship healed to what it had been.
With their now unfulfilled dream of winning a third state championship, the brothers shifted their hopes to their next goal--playing college lacrosse for legendary Syracuse University. Athletically, the brothers were more than capable of being standout lacrosse players at Syracuse University, but academically they struggled. They were both unable to score the necessary SAT scores to be admitted.
Both brothers had attended a Mohawk language school until fifth grade when their parents transferred them to an American public school. Hindered by the language barrier, the brothers struggled for years to catch up academically to their peers. Jeremy was also at a greater disadvantage as he was diagnosed with multiple learning disabilities.
Difficulties aside, the Thompson brothers would not give up. Lacrosse was their incentive to work hard academically, the brothers said in the film. To play lacrosse they had to get good grades in school.
“The game comes very naturally, very easily to them,” Korver said. “It’s a testament to what the game means to them.”
The Medicine Game is the first documentary Korver calls his own. He directed, co-produced, shot and edited the film. Previously, he has worked on other documentaries as a camera operator, including Unflitered, a 2006 film about Olympian Michael Phelps in which Korver was the director of photography.
Outside documentary work, Korver is a film director, producer and director of photography in the commercial industry. He has done work for Omega Watches, Fox Sports, Vans and many other clients. Korver said that the commercial work is what pays his bills while providing him the filmmaking experience and techniques necessary to do the documentary stories.
“I really like doing the commercial work, but my heart is in the documentary stories,” Korver said. “I am always looking for the next documentary story.”
Written by Ben Kreimer.
Interviews conducted and edited by Ben Kreimer.