For reference, Chinle is east of Tuba City, Arizona. The docu-series, called "Basketball or Nothing," is made up of six episodes and follows the team's run to the semifinals during their season, said Matt Howley, executive producer and co-director of the film. Each episode ranges between minutes.
The new series follows the Chinle Wildcats, a rural Arizona team based on a Navajo reservation where one statistic is revelatory: the population is 4,, but the high school basketball stadium seats 6, Opening Shot: A drone flies through a postcard-worthy red rock formation in the Arizona desert.
That has to change, though — second-year coach Raul Mendoza wants his team to stop running willy-nilly all over the court, and apply discipline to this strategy.
Mendoza is a year coaching veteran who knows how to win. Seniors on the team will graduate.
Winning will help. The opening episode of this six-part series profiles two key Wildcats. The Wildcats travel two hours by bus for their first game of the season against the Snowflake Lobos.
Mendoza preaches mental focus and, of course, discipline. He temporarily benches Josiah for playing too wild.
Snowflake battles back to tie the game in the final seconds. And finally, the Wildcats execute as their coach directs: They pass. They run.
They pass. And finally, Cooper gets open and drains a gorgeous three-pointer to ice Snowflake. On to the next game.
Our Take: Directors Matt Howley, Michael Lucas and Gabriel Spitale clearly know how to stoke empathy without blatantly manipulating their audience: They simply point their cameras and tell the story earnestly.
Unlike other sports docs, Basketball or Nothing foregoes the overdramatic cheesiness of voiceover narration, pushing the voices of Chinle to the forefront.
This series presents a more honest reality, and the title implies a clear dearth of hope in Chinle, a community besieged by alcoholism and poverty.
Basketball is obviously a much healthier addiction for players and fans. Sex and Skin: None.
Sleeper Star: The first voice we hear in the episode belongs to Mo Draper, a lovably roly-poly gent with a long white beard and a hot-pink beanie cap. Basketball or Nothing is sincere, heartfelt and absolutely worth your time.
The NCAA has taken a lot of heat for its systemic exploitation of young college players, offering them academic scholarships but then forcing them to sideline their education in order to play ball full time, making the school millions in the process. But after meeting William Gates and Arthur Agee, two inner-city kids laser-focused on making it to the NBA, the filmmakers set out on a nearly six-year journey, following both Gates and Agee through high school and into college, by which point the shape and reality of their dreams had changed, in sometimes heartbreaking fashion.
John Serba is a freelance writer and film critic based in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Read more of his work at johnserbaatlarge. Share this:.