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Sydney Freeland to Direct Native American Basketball Film 'Rez Ball'

Sydney Freeland to Direct Native American Basketball Film 'Rez Ball'

  • The coming-of-age sports drama about Native American basketball produced by Wise Entertainment and The SpringHill Company is heading to Netflix.

  • Inspired by Michael Powell’s critically acclaimed nonfiction sports novel Canyon Dreams, as well as the groundbreaking New York Times articles that preceded it, 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.

  • Director: Sydney Freeland (Drunktown’s Finest, Deidra & Laney Rob a Train, Reservation Dogs) 

  • Screenwriters: Sydney Freeland (Drunktown’s Finest) and Sterlin Harjo (Reservation Dogs) inspired by Michael Powell’s critically acclaimed nonfiction sports novel Canyon Dreams, as well as the groundbreaking New York Times articles that preceded it.

  • Producers: Maurício and Katie Mota’s Wise Entertainment (East Los High) and LeBron James and Maverick Carter’s The SpringHill Company (Space Jam: A New Legacy)

  • Executive Producers: Spencer Beighley and Jamal Henderson of The SpringHill Company

  • Quote from Maurício Mota (Wise Entertainment): “We could not be more excited to bring this beautiful, powerful story to life with this amazing team. 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). 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.”

  • Quote from Sydney Freeland (director/co-writer): “I am beyond excited to be working with Netflix, Wise Entertainment, and The SpringHill Company to bring this story to life. 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. This is a story that’s commonplace on Indian reservations all over the US, but most people aren’t even aware it exists. 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.”

  • Logline: Described as Friday Night Lights meets Hoosiers, the story follows the Chuska Warriors, a Native American high school basketball team from Chuska, New Mexico that must band together after losing their star player if they want 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. 

  • Production will take place in New Mexico including filming on reservations with the permission and support of the local sovereign tribal nations. 

About Sydney Freeland: 

Sydney Freeland (Navajo) is an Emmy-nominated film and TV writer and director. Her debut feature, Drunktown’s Finest, premiered at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival and was Executive Produced by Robert Redford. The film was influenced by her experience growing up on the Navajo reservation. Freeland’s second feature was the Netflix Original film Deidra and Laney Rob a Train, which premiered at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival. Her TV directing work spans a wide range of shows, including Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, Grey’s Anatomy, Fear the Walking Dead, The Wilds, and Rutherford Falls among others. Freeland also wrote and directed for the upcoming FX show Reservation Dogs, Executive Produced by Sterlin Harjo and Taika Waititi. 

About Sterlin Harjo: 

Sterlin Harjo (Seminole/Muscogee Creek) is an award-winning filmmaker from Holdenville, Oklahoma. Harjo is the co-creator (along with Maori filmmaker Taika Waititi) and showrunner of Reservation Dogs, an original comedy for FX which premieres August 9, 2021, that focuses on four young teens in rural Oklahoma trying to get out of town after the death of their friend. The writing staff, directors and all lead actors in the show are Indigenous. Harjo has additional projects set up with Amazon, FX and Showtime. 

About Wise Entertainment: 

Wise Entertainment is an independent studio that develops, creates, and produces television and film in the U.S., Latin America, and beyond. Wise is dedicated to telling complex, timely, and entertaining narratives from the inside-out. Wise Entertainment has a first-look deal with Amazon for TV, where they have several shows in development, among other projects with Imagine Entertainment, HBO Max, and Wiip. 

About The SpringHill Company: 

The SpringHill Company is a global consumer and entertainment conglomerate created to empower greatness in every individual by uniting three companies built by LeBron James and Maverick Carter: UNINTERRUPTED, the athlete empowerment media and consumer product company, SpringHill Entertainment, the premium scripted and unscripted film and television production company, and The Robot Company, the brand and culture consultancy. With a dynamic and diverse team committed to creating the most culturally inspired brands, entertainment, and products. The SpringHill Company is built to be the defining brand for a new generation. On the feature front, they recently premiered ‘Space Jam: A New Legacy,’ and are currently in production on ‘House Party’ for New Line, as well as the Adam Sandler-led ‘Hustle’ for Netflix.

HEADSHOT: Sydney Freeland (please download)