The kids are tall. So tall they literally stick out of the crowd, but that’s pretty much the only thing they have in common. They all have very different goals, interests, feelings — but now they have to concentrate on just one.
They live in a world of basketball. Besides studying at high school, every weekday they do painstaking, repetitive practice. Every weekend they play basketball, two or three games a day. When they are back at their place at night, basketball is what’s on TV, and there is still homework to do. Basketball stars are what the kids talk about, their role models and the only entertainment. Before and after every game they pray to God in a language they barely speak. Every hour of their day is scheduled, and what most people would recognize as the very basic freedoms, they are deprived of. Hang out with a friend or a girlfriend. See your mom. Watch a movie. Take a walk. Not a chance.
What makes the kids agree to do it?
They come from Haiti. Haiti is a completely different story.
It’s nearly impossible to imagine life in Haiti before you see it with your own eyes.
You see simplistic, down-to-earth beauty in the absence of electricity or hot water. You see profound sincerity in the smiles of women living in makeshift cardboard houses. You see harmony in everyday rituals still guided by circadian rhythms.
And yet you see all kinds of poverty and destruction. You see people starving, struggling for food. Surviving. Substandard education system. No jobs. Street kids. Families with kids and no father, the mother trying to get by selling whatever goods she has at a flea market. When the kids grow up and see an opportunity to break away, get an education and help themselves and their families, they don’t hesitate. And when they do leave, they start to see ways to help their country in general. They are happy about it, but the United States is not their home. They can’t think or act the way they did in Haiti. They got their opportunity, but lost their freedom.
Whenever Schnider, 17, is not playing or practicing basketball, he is almost always found stretched on the couch in his guardian’s apartment, confined to his smartphone. His phone is his connection with his home, friends, the last remaining window of what’s left of his private life. He’s been here for only 1 year and he hadn’t played any basketball before, but his capabilities are already showing. Experts compare his style with what LeBron James was doing at the same age. Mental notes are made about Schnider possibly becoming just as famous. He is surrounded by people expecting a lot from him, and stakes are high, but those relationships lacking warmth and love are what makes him homesick.
Pierre, 15, is still in Haiti. Everyday he spends many hours walking to his basketball training. He walks because his family does not have enough money to pay his bus fare. Going to America is his dream, but the decision on him is yet to be made, let alone the tedious paperwork that would follow.
A different Pierre, 32, has already been through all stages of this routine. He was a prominent basketball player when his knee problems ended his career in professional sports. He stayed in America and became a vital part of the process, helping the kids back home and changing the whole situation with professional basketball in Haiti.
It all started with their height. They were noticed. Brought into a basketball camp in Port-Au-Prince, run by an amateur coach. A nonprofit organization connected them to schools in the U. S., and schools were interested. Interest is still there, in every step they make. Their progress is being watched. They are being approached by college basketball team coaches. By professional agents. The agents are trying to recognize the early signs of celebrity potential in them. It is already clear that some of them will indeed turn into basketball stars. Their life will become public, every moment of it scrutinized by hordes of reporters and paparazzi. But now they are still kids in the beginning of their journey, and we document their start in our film.
This is a cinema vérité piece. The characters and the people around them are presented not through interviews or voiceover but through careful observation of their life, activities and emotions. There are no talking heads, the camera approaches people in a very subtle, noninvasive way, not a force but a silent yet focused eye. We shot it with two cameras simultaneously to be able to use more diverse, narrative-like film language in the editing room.
The three stories of our characters unfold in parallel. The plot develops associatively rather than chronologically, transitions between characters happening in the moments of the strongest emotional connection between them. This principle allows the characters’ stories to support and advance each other through the film.
The younger Pierre exists mostly in the context of his family, still deeply connected to his mother in a way that is probably unique to Haiti in all the modern world. Schnider didn’t even have a family back in Haiti, and he has not found one in the States, his relationship with his guardian being strenuous at its best. He would rebel occasionally, but never go up to the point that would cause serious consequences — too much is at stake. Older Pierre is the one who is in contact with all the other characters in the film, operating his nonprofit, helping younger Pierre, amongst other kids, with his student visa, looking after Schnider and other kids already studying in the U. S., connecting all the characters together.
We feature extensive Haitian footage. We notice how different the environment is in Haiti and the U. S., how the unfamiliar setting clashes with what the kids have been used to. We understand the motivation behind the colossal effort it is for the kids and their families to come study in America and we explore the conflicts they face when they come. We see the difference in basketball, from pure enthusiasm and amateur coaches in Haiti to semiprofessional, attention attracting players of American college teams, their technique more refined and individual.
We do not provide any critique or evaluation of what our characters do, what we show is how they embrace a totally different culture that comes with its own set of rules.
The kids are in for the greater future, but for each one of them it comes at a price.