Peter Berg spent almost five years in the Twin Cities at the start of the 1980s, getting a degree from Macalester in theater arts and history.
He headed to Los Angeles in 1985 to see where that degree might take him. He found a fair level of success as an actor, most notably as the young man used for personal gratification by the conniving Linda Fiorentino in "The Last Seduction" (1994).
"She was great in that role, wasn't she," Berg said in a phone conversation last week.
Berg's career took a turn to directing and producing in the late '90s. It was in those roles that he spent much time back in the Twin Cities starting in the summer of 2021.
"George Floyd had died in May [25th] 2020, and we all saw it on video," Berg said. "His murder did more than lead to parts of Minneapolis being burned. It led to international outrage and protests."
As the complete chaos subsided after a few days, there came the national news narrative of the violent atmosphere in Minneapolis that existed before George Floyd's death and would become extreme afterward.
"I couldn't put aside this thought: 'It wasn't like that when I was there. What has been going on?' " Berg said. "I wanted to do something, but I didn't know what.
"Then I read about 'OA' and the North High football team in the New York Times, and I said, 'There's something here for a documentary.' "
In North High parlance, "OA" refers to Officer (Charles) Adams, North's former resource police officer in the school and also the football coach since 2010.
The Times piece was offered in outstanding fashion by Sports of the Times columnist Kurt Streeter and appeared on Oct. 25, 2020. The Polars were then in a season shortened by COVID-19.
Streeter's opening paragraphs took readers, including Berg, back to the night after Floyd's death, when Adams put on riot gear and went with his brother and sister officers to face violent crowds on Lake Street and elsewhere.
Before marching out, Adams put as many of his players as possible on a Zoom call and, as he told Streeter, gave this message: "I got to see your faces before I go up in here."
Adams' job as a resource officer was eliminated when the Minneapolis school board voted in September 2020 to end its contract with the Minneapolis Police Department.
A month later, the Twins hired Adams to be their director of team security and he left the force. And yet he has remained "OA" in the soul of all parties involved with North football.
Berg arranged to visit Adams in Minneapolis late in 2020. The idea was formed to have a documentary that would cover the full season of 2021.
There's a scene in the first episode of what became "Boys in Blue" where Adams is driving Berg near North High in daylight and there are gunshots heard.
"That was the first day I was there," Berg said. "And that emphasized it for me: 'This is reality for these young people.' "
The four-part documentary series starts Friday on Showtime.
There are two main dramas taking place in the first 3½ episodes of Berg's film:
- The relationship between the coaches, with Adams and three still-active Minneapolis cops (Charles Sr., OA's father; Rick Plunkett; and Tim Lawrence), and his squad of young Black men who have been raised in the time of Floyd and other Black deaths in meetings with cops.
- The run-up to the vote in November 2021 to replace the Minneapolis police department with a Department of Public Safety.
Councilman Jeremiah Ellison gets much opportunity in Berg's film to spew on why an official police department should be eliminated, but he never gets around to answering the question being asked by Coach Adams in a Zoom call:
"What's replacing the police department?"
Ellison's "Yes" campaign lost decisively, without the support anticipated by a majority of voters on the North Side.
I said this to both Adams and Berg last week: "The trouble with watching this documentary is the same as watching a John F. Kennedy documentary a half-century ago. You know how it's going to turn out, and it makes you sick."
Deshaun Hill, North's 15-year-old sophomore prodigy as a quarterback, is among the first athletes introduced in the film.
"D Hill was the most genuine, uplifting person you could ever meet," Tae Gilchrist, a teammate, said last week. "That smile was always there."
Hill was walking to a bus stop after school last Feb. 9. He was shot to death by an apparent stranger. Cody Fohrenkam will go on trial for second-degree murder this month.
"We take what we hope is a compelling look at the kids, at these coaches, at this community, and we packed up in January," Berg said. "I came to town in early February to spend a day with OA.
"And two days later, this great kid, really our star of the documentary, is shot to death. It's heartbreaking, traumatizing, a 15-year-old boy with an incredibly bright future.
"The kids there live through so many challenges, but never this. It's unimaginable. Everyone loved D Hill, including our crew."