(director/writer: RaMell Ross; screenwriter: Maya Krinsky; cinematographer: RaMell Ross; editor: RaMell Ross, Robb Moss, Joslyn Barnes, Maya Krinsky; music: Alex Somers/Forest Kelley/Scott Alario; cast: Latrenda ‘Boosie’ Ash, Quincy Bryant, Daniel Collins, Mary Collins; Runtime: 76; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: RaMell Ross/Joslyn Barnes/Su Kim; The Cinema Guild; 2018)

The ambitious documentary captures some small but significant moments in the black experience.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

First time black director RaMell Ross in 2009 was coaching college basketball and teaching photography in the middle of the Southern Black Belt region (a small county in western Alabama) when he decided to make a documentary about the black players he was close with. It took five years to complete (with 1,300 hours of footage that was edited). It has a non-traditional structure, as shot with many different inventive camera angles. The personal documentary captures some small but significant moments in the black experience (such as a black girl casually braiding her hair, a toddler running back and forth across a small living room, and some sweat dripping off a ball player).

The stars are two youthful high school cagers, Daniel Collins and the older twentysomething Quincy Bryant. Quincy is from Greensboro and supports his young family (his young son Kyrie and his pregnant girlfriend Boosie who is expecting twins) by working at the local catfish processing plant in the county, while Daniel aspires to make a career in basketball and takes basketball as the most serious thing he could do and goes on to play for nearby Selma University. His mom Mary also works at the catfish plant (Danny was raised by his granny until he was 12, as the one living with his mom at the time had a bad attitude). The film is lyrical as far as its mood goes. It catches in long shots the seemingly insignificant acts of its subjects and makes them have value, and presents snapshots of their everyday tranquil lives built around social gatherings, romps in the park, horse rides, their school activities, their church gatherings, and with them in their front and backyards. The film shows its respect to the struggling African-Americans by trying to ‘frame’ them, capture their essence, while they still have their dreams and hopes alive despite the odds being against reaching them.

Thai filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul is the creative adviser, whose influence on the film significantly shows as Ross’s film also tells its story through the visuals. That becomes apparent in the way the film paints everyday life in this historical rural town once marked by racism and poverty and now solely remembered for its civil rights past.

Be assured this is no Hoop Dreams, but an entirely different kind of basketball film that relates in a loving way to the guys and their life challenges. Though it’s not easy to grasp what the filmmaker is up to because of the film’s novel approach, it has a way of getting to you if you want to get to know people who are portrayed as real folks with no unnecessary embellishments. It won a Special Jury Prize at Sundance.

REVIEWED ON 11/27/2018 GRADE: B+   https://dennisschwartzreviews.com/