“The Rugby Player” documentary

TRT: 80min
Filmmakers: Scott Gracheff, Holly Million, Chris Million

Winner – HBO© Audience Award for Best Documentary
The Miami Gay & Lesbian Film Festival 2013


“As innocent, raw and powerful as the man it memorializes”
Roger Brigham – Edge Media 


The Rugby Player focuses on the unique bond between a mother and son and how it was ultimately strengthened by tragedy. The film explores the lives of Mark Bingham, one of the passengers of United Flight 93 on 9/11, and his mother, Alice Hoagland, a former United Airlines flight attendant. The Rugby Player illuminates a personal story of love, loss and what it means to be a hero.


The Rugby Player is a feature-length documentary about the unique bond between a mother and son and how it was ultimately strengthened by tragedy. The film explores the lives of Mark Bingham, one of the passengers of United Flight 93 on September 11, 2001, and his remarkable mother, Alice Hoagland, a former United Airlines Flight attendant.

As an aspiring filmmaker growing up, Mark used his video camera as a form of personal expression, teenage rebellion, and as a diary capturing daring, hilarious and intimate moments of his life with his wide circle of family and friends. Mark left behind hundreds of hours of video documenting the final decade and a half of his life, from his teenage years until weeks before he died. This personal archive has allowed the filmmakers to weave remarkably personal images captured by Mark’s own lens into the fabric of the film.

More than 10 years in the making, The Rugby Player shows Markdeveloping from a gawky teenager into a self-assured leader, demonstrating a fearlessness and disregard for danger that often amazed his family and friends. A rugby player in high school, at the University of California, Berkeley and then with the San Francisco Fog, Mark applied the knowledge and character he acquired from the sport to challenges in his life, including coming out as a gay man to his family and friends in his early 20s.

Mark’s mother, Alice Hoagland, along with Mark’s high school and college friends, former partners, family members, and his ‘gay parents’ reminisce about Mark throughout the film, tracing their interactions with him up until the day he boarded United Flight 93 on September 11. With wrenching clarity, loved ones recall the last moments they saw or spoke with him. Alice heartbreakingly recounts the phone call she received from Mark from aboard the hijacked plane, their final conversation and her last desperate advice to him.

After Mark’s death, the film follows Alice’s journey to rebuild her life in the aftermath of 9/11. Devastated by her loss but inspired by the memory of her son, Alice becomes a nationally known spokesperson on airline safety, a champion of equal rights for all and a heroine to countless LGBT sons and daughters across the country. Within the shadow of a national tragedy, The Rugby Player is an intimate portrait of how a son’s heroism can inspire a nation, and how a mother’s love can turn unfathomable loss into unshakable resolve. 


Born in 1970, Mark Bingham grew up in humble circumstances in Miami, Florida and Southern California before moving to the San Jose area in 1983. The only child of his single mom Alice Hoagland, he graduated from Los Gatos High School as a two-year captain of his rugby team in 1988. As an undergraduate at the University of California, Berkeley, Mark played on two of Coach Jack Clark’s national-championship-winning rugby teams in the early 1990s. Mark joined the Chi Psi fraternity, eventually becoming its president. Gregarious and fun loving, he made friends easily and was always the life of the party.

At the age of twenty-one, Mark dealt with what had been a secret in his young life. Worried, but trusting in the love of his family and friends, he announced to them one by one that he was gay. Their acceptance allowed him to live freely as an ‘out’ gay man for the rest of his life, bringing him even closer to his wide circle of friends and family. 

After college, Mark worked in high tech, eventually establishing The Bingham Group, a public relations firm with offices in San Francisco and New York City. Living the life of a successful young executive, he and friends vacationed in Europe, Australia and throughout the U.S., even running with the bulls in Pamplona, Spain. He had several long-term relationships throughout his 20s as he explored his sexuality. He kept playing amateur rugby and made plans to found a gay-friendly rugby team.

Early in the morning of September 11, 2001, with tension in his voice, Mark phoned his family to say, “Mom, this is Mark Bingham. I just want to tell you that I love you. I’m on a flight from Newark to San Francisco and there are three guys on board who have taken over the plane, and they say they have a bomb. You believe me, don’t you, Mom?”

Evidence from phone calls that Mark and fellow passengers made that day, as well as the recording made by Flight 93’s “black box” recorder suggests that a group of passengers heroically battled the hijackers for control of the plane. Thwarted by a lack of time and altitude, they lost their struggle for the cockpit controls, but spared Americans the sight of the Capitol Building- the presumed target of Flight 93- in ruins. Virtually everyone who knew Mark Bingham is sure he was involved in the passenger struggle to gain control of the plane. In the years since Sept. 11, 2001, Mark has become an American hero for his role on Flight 93 and a worldwide hero to the LGBT community for the way he lived his life.

Alice Hoagland, mother of September 11, 2001 United Flight 93 passenger Mark Bingham, served as a flight attendant for four airlines over the course of twenty-nine years. In the aftermath of the 9/11 tragedy she has poured her efforts into becoming a writer, speaker and researcher on the issues of aviation security and LGBT rights, including the right of same-sex couples to marry.

Alice advocates frequently in the national media for safer air travel, petitioning the federal government and the airlines to commit to higher standards of aviation security. She also advocates for anti-terrorist training for airline crewmembers, improved cabin, cockpit and cargo security, effective “no fly” passenger lists, and the prohibition of weapons onboard aircraft. Alice serves as a director of The Mark Bingham Foundation.


Scott Gracheff
This project started when I met Todd Sarner at a dinner party in San Francisco back in early 2002. We started chatting and when I told him that I made documentaries for PBS, he was very interested in talking with me. He told me about his friend Mark Bingham who was on Flight 93 on 9/11. Before any of the news came out about the events on that flight, Mark’s loved ones knew that he had something to do with that plane not reaching its target. Apparently Mark had been a hero to his friends and family long before 9/11. 

The more Todd told me about his friend, the more I liked him, and the more I felt his story needed to be told. Soon after, my filmmaking partners and I began a 10-year journey to tell his story, and we got a lot of help from Mark himself. Mark had been a life-long amateur filmmaker and documented his entire life on camcorder from his early teens up until the month before he died. Todd shared this vast collection with us, from goofy short films to intimate video diaries; amazing moments were caught on tape. These moments have allowed us to create a portrait of an individual that goes beyond the news headlines and sound bites and gets at the true heart of the human spirit. In a very real way, Mark shot the film of his life and we’ve tried our best to tell that story as truthfully as possible. 


Scott Gracheff is an Emmy award-winning documentary filmmaker whose work focuses on diverse voices seldom heard in the mainstream media. As a staff PBS producer / director, he created numerous documentaries for PBS audiences for over ten years. This included two documentaries that aired along with The War, Ken Burn’s landmark series about WWII. Soldados explores the experience of Latino WWII soldiers, while Nisei Soldiers tells the story of the war through the eyes of Japanese American soldiers. Soldados went on to earn a 2008 Emmy Award Nomination. Previous work for PBS includes Dave Tatsuno, Movies and Memories, a documentary that uncovers the story of a man who smuggled his 8mm film camera into a Japanese internment camp and secretly filmed his family’s 3-year life behind barbed wire. The film won a 2006 San Francisco Press Club Documentary Award. In 2003, he directed Return To The Valley, which examines the Japanese American experience after WWII. The documentary won a 2004 Emmy Award. Currently, Scott is an independent filmmaker based in New York City and recently began shooting a new documentary about NYC artist and performer Joe Coleman. Chronicling 3 years in the life of the artist, the film also documents Coleman working on his biggest painting ever, which is still 2 years away from completion. 

Holly Million is a consultant, author, and filmmaker with two decades of experience in fundraising. In addition to securing funding for A Story of Healing, which won a 1997 Academy Award, Million has raised money for documentary and dramatic films that have aired on PBS, HBO, and other broadcast outlets. As a director, Holly created Changing Room, a dramatic film that had its television debut on PBS in 2005. Holly has raised money for such cutting-edge films as It Came From Kuchar, a documentary about underground filmmaker George Kuchar directed by Jennifer Kroot, Blind Spot: Murder by Women, a film by Oscar-winning filmmakers Allie Light and Irving Saraf, as well as Everyday Heroes, a film by Oscar-nominated director Rick Goldsmith. Holly is currently directing A Permanent Mark: Agent Orange in America and Vietnam, a documentary for national broadcast that integrates the story of Americans exposed to Agent Orange with the story of Vietnamese people still contending with the toxic herbicide. Holly has an MA in education from Stanford University and a BA in English from Harvard University. A seasoned international traveler who has been to Nepal, China, Thailand, and South Korea, Holly met her husband, The Rugby Player DP Chris Million, on a trip to Mongolia in 1996.

Chris Million has traveled the world as a film and television producer, director and director of photography for over 20 years receiving numerous awards for his work, including a 2004 Emmy for the PBS documentary Return to the Valley. During his time at PBS, Chris shot and/or produced over 150 segments for the Emmy-winning science educational show Real Science!, shot and directed the long-running interview show Malone, and contributed to many other national PBS projects such as Universe andtheEmmy-nominated The War: Soldados. Chris was the Director of Photography on Jennifer Kroot’s 2010 feature documentary It Came From Kuchar, which screened at South by Southwest, Telluride and numerous other film festivals before a successful theatrical release and national broadcast on cable and PBS. Chris is currently shooting Kroot’s highly-anticipated new documentary about actor and activist George Takei. His many other credits include segments for Monday Night Football, Fox Sports, A&E, TNT, History Channel, MTV, VH1 and interviews with everyone from Hall of Fame ballplayer Willie Mays to President Jimmy Carter. Chris is also the director and co-producer with his wife Holly of the feature documentary Jack London: 20th Century Man, currently in production. Chris’s work has been presented with the Emmy, CINE Golden Eagle, and Telly Awards, as well as numerous educational media awards. Chris has a BS in Film and Television from Syracuse University.

Manuel Adrian Tsingaris has been an editor for twenty years. His experience ranges from documentaries and commercials, to music videos and magazine style programming. Some of his recent projects include: Latino Americans a 6 hour PBS series retelling US history through a Latin lens, Unearthing the Dreama film about a small town in Arkansas during the mid 1960's and the sacrifices made by the first Black students as they enter their new White high school, TheStorm that Swept Mexico, a two-hour film that aired on PBS in 2011; Writ Writer, a story about a jailhouse lawyer who from behind bars in the 1960’s, alerted the public to the unconstitutional practices in the TX penal system, bringing about statewide change; A Dream in Doubt, which follows a Sikh man’s journey to find peace and justice after his brother is killed four days after 9/11; China Blue, a documentary on child labor in China, globalization and who is paying the ultimate price for our appetite for cheap products; and Long Gone, a documentary about hobos and the very human desire for community, belonging and family. Manuel was also a contributing Editor on the critically acclaimed mini documentary series, Life 360, a co-venture between ABC/Nightline and PBS.

Todd has known Mark Bingham since middle school when the two of them explored their budding interest in becoming filmmakers. Fortunately for the world, this passion for film led them to record hundreds of hours of their adventures together from childhood up to the month before Mark died.

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website: www.therugbyplayerfilm.com
twitter: ‪@rugbyplayerfilm
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