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ESPN OJ documentary to debut this month at Sundance

The long-awaited, 10-hour ESPN documentary series on O.J. Simpson will have its world premiere on Jan. 22 at the Sundance Film Festival, about five months before it airs in five parts on the cable sports network.

ESPN made the announcement Wednesday at the Television Critics Association meetings in Pasadena, Calif.

Calling it ESPN Films’ most ambitious project to date, “OJ: Made in America” is a five-part documentary miniseries event under the “30 for 30” brand. It is ESPN’s first “30 for 30” miniseries event.

It is directed by award winner Ezra Edelman, whose previous credits include “Magic & Bird: A Courtship of Rivals,” and “Brooklyn Dodgers: Ghosts of Flatbush.”

In a release, ESPN said the Simpson documentary “examines the history of race over the last several decades through the lens of OJ Simpson’s rise and fall.”

“It is perhaps the defining cultural tale of 20th century America, one that centers around two of our country’s greatest fixations: race and celebrity. “OJ: Made in America” will explore these themes in tracing a personal journey, from how Orenthal James Simpson first became a football star, to why the country fell in love with him off the field, to his being accused of murdering his ex-wife and his subsequent acquittal and why he is now sitting in jail 20 years later for another crime.”

The documentary will debut at Sundance 11 days before FX premieres the first episode of a miniseries, “American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson,” with a cast that includes Cuba Gooding Jr., John Travolta, David Schwimmer, Courtney B. Vance and Sarah Paulson. It premieres Feb. 2.

Connor Schell, the senior vice president of ESPN Films and Original Content, said in a release that the Simpson documentary “is unlike anything ESPN Films has done before and Ezra’s phenomenal work has taken one man’s story and, through it, explored the topics of celebrity, sports, police brutality, race relations and domestic violence.”

ESPN Films also announced upcoming “30 for 30” documentaries on the 1985 Chicago Bears and the 2006 Duke lacrosse scandal. “The ’85 Bears” airs on ESPN at 9 p.m. Feb. 4. “Fantastic Lies,” the title of the Duke lacrosse scandal film, airs at 9 p.m. March 13.

The film on the Bears airs on the 30th anniversary of their Super XX victory and deals with the birth of the 46 defense by Buddy Ryan, Rex’s father.

“Fantastic Lies” premieres on the 10th anniversary of the party that ESPN noted in a release “ignited what became a national firestorm and resulted in a highly charged legal investigation. Usually confined to the sports section, lacrosse suddenly appeared on the front pages of newspapers because of the lurid details of the case and the hot buttons that it pushed: sex, race, class, violence.”

In April, a “30 for 30 film” produced by Penny Hardaway and Shaquille O’Neal will focus on the Orlando Magic of the mid-1990s. And in the summer, a film about former New York Mets stars Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden is the focus of directors Judd Apatow (“Trainwreck,” “This Is 40”) and Michael Bonfiglio (“You Don’t Know Bo”).

email: apergament@buffnews.com