Sydney Freeland to Direct Native American Basketball Film Rez Ball for Netflix
Emmy-nominated film and TV writer-director Sydney Freeland has signed on to direct “Rez Ball,” a coming-of-age drama about Native American basketball for Netflix.
Described as “Friday Night Lights” meets “Hoosiers,” “Rez Ball” follows the Chuska Warriors, a Native American high school basketball team from Chuska, New Mexico, that must band together after losing their star player in order to keep their quest for a state championship alive. It’s an all-American underdog story about Navajo kids and coaches told from the inside-out.
Written by Freeland (a Navajo filmmaker) and Sterlin Harjo (Seminole/Muscogee Creek), the drama is produced by Wise Entertainment and The SpringHill Company.
“I am beyond excited to be working with Netflix, Wise Entertainment and The SpringHill Company to bring this story to life,” Freeland said of the project. “Basketball on the Rez is like high school football in West Texas. It has a fanatical following that few sports can rival.”
“I’m also excited to be working with Sterlin Harjo on this. He has brought so much insight, humor, and heart to this story,” the filmmaker added.
The film’s story is inspired by Michael Powell’s critically-acclaimed 2019 nonfiction sports novel “Canyon Dreams,” as well as the New York Times articles that preceded it. As such, “Rez Ball” explores the raw and exhilarating world of “reservation basketball” with its unique, lightening-quick pace that is rumored to have influenced top NBA teams and coaches throughout the years.
“This is a story that’s commonplace on Indian reservations all over the US, but most people aren’t even aware it exists,” Freeland noted. “What we want to do is bring people into our world, to tell a story about the people and places we know, and what better way to do that than through a sports movie? We want to tell a story that is authentic to the place and people, told from the inside-out. We are so excited with the team we’ve assembled and can’t wait to bring this to the screen.”
Production on the movie will take place in New Mexico, including filming on reservations with the permission and support of the local sovereign tribal nations.
“Rez Ball” is produced by Maurício and Katie Mota’s Wise Entertainment and LeBron James and Maverick Carter’s The SpringHill Company, with Spencer Beighley and Jamal Henderson of The SpringHill Company serving as executive producers.
“We could not be more excited to bring this beautiful, powerful story to life with this amazing team,” Maurício Mota said of producing the project. “We are eternally grateful to the strategic guidance and advice of the Native American community inside and outside of Hollywood, especially Jodi Archambault (Hunkpapa/Olgala Lakota, former Special Assistant to President Obama for Native American Affairs), Crystal Echo Hawk (Pawnee, CEO of IllumiNative), Bird Runningwater (Cheyenne/Mescalero Apache, Sundance Institute’s Indigenous Program) and Notah Begay III (Navajo/San Felipe/Isleta, Stanford University, PGA Tour and philanthropist).”
Mota continued: “It was through this community that we were connected with the extraordinary multi-hyphenates Sydney Freeland and Sterlin Harjo whom we spent the last several years developing the script with. We are so honored to be working with them and the brilliant team at The SpringHill Company. ‘Rez Ball’ aims to be a love letter to the contributions Native Americans have made to basketball and also a launchpad for Native talent both in front of and behind the camera, ready to make their mark in the industry. We want this to be a blueprint for how to balance excellent storytelling with impact and pipeline development.”
Freeland and Harjo most recently partnered for FX’s “Reservation Dogs,” which premieres Aug. 9. Harjo is the co-creator (along with Maori filmmaker Taika Waititi) and showrunner of the comedy series that focuses on four young teens in rural Oklahoma trying to get out of town after the death of their friend. Freeland also wrote and directed on the series.
Wise Entertainment/Maurício Mota are represented by CAA and Del Shaw Moonves Tanaka Finkelstein & Lezcano. Harjo is repped by APA, Circle of Confusion and Del, Shaw, Moonves et al.
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