In a documentary, directed by Jeff Harasimowicz (first film as director) and executive produced by Chris Pratt (The Tomorrow War, On the Mat), that made its world premiere at the 30th annual Santa Barbara International Film Festival in 2021 where it won the Audience Choice Award, we get an insight to what sport can mean to a community, especially during tough times.
An island located off the coast of southeast Alaska is the home to the Tsimshian. They are living on one of Alaska’s last remaining native reserves – Metlakatla. For over a hundred years this community has held tight onto two traditions: fishing and basketball. Now, the first one is probably an expected one, but the second is a little stranger. And yet fishing gives them food and jobs while basketball gives them pride and hope.
Fishing, since the closing of the sawmills decades ago, is the only industry in Metlakatla. As such young people often join their families or take on jobs to the detriment of their education. Often young students would skip school to fish. They also take on dangerous diving jobs in which their very lives are at risk.
In the rather dismal environment, the one thing that seems to unite all residents of Metlakatla is basketball. The summers belong to basketball. High school basketball brings everyone together. All either watch or play. It means everything to them.
The doc focuses on two cousins who are fishers, but more importantly, and lead the Metlakatla Chiefs basketball team in the year of 2018. Despite the passion put into and the importance placed upon basketball, the Chiefs have not won a state title in over 30 years. The pressure is on here as it is thought that the present team has a chance to break the drought. DJ King and Danny Marsden are the focus here, along with their coach.
This is not just about a community bonding over basketball. It is about trying to overcome hardship. The hand is stacked against the people of Metlakatla. As if there isn’t enough pressure, basketball and the two, DJ and Danny, are tasked with bringing up the spirits of the entire village after a terrible tragedy. It is not overstating it to say that basketball and the young men who play for the Chiefs are vital to the very survival of this community. People who are faced with tough times and challenges one after another.
The almost two hour documentary is a real roller coaster bringing you high and very low. While it might mean different things to different people, what everyone who watches the film will share in is the investment you will have in the people of Metlakatla.