Brooklynites could be forgiven for not wanting to watch or even think about basketball right now. The Nets are lousy and there’s no light at the end of the Izod Center tunnel. (As a Toronto resident and Raptors fan still seething about last spring, let me say: Brooklyn, you have whatever the exact opposite of my sympathies would be.) But there’s some genuinely beautiful basketball on display in Canadian-born—and to his credit, Raptors-infatuated—f ilmmaker Brett Kashmere’s From Deep, which makes its New York premiere at UnionDocs at 7:30pm on January 10th and 11th, with Kashmere in person. Gorgeously photographed and edited, it’s an experimental documentary with a mix-tape sensibility—an essay film in thrall to the And-1 Tour.
“I’ve watched a lot of films about basketball and I’m not aware of anything like From Deep,”
says Kashmere. “The closest parallel is maybe the blog FreeDarko, which similarly approached the game through the lens of popular culture, and with an eclectic, highly subjective sensibility. Blogs and mixtapes were two of the early structural metaphors that I had in mind when I first started making the video.”
The major through-line in From Deep is the historical evolution of basketball along racial and
cultural lines, with special emphasis on the intersection of hoops and hip-hop in the 1980s—a street-level relationship that initially threatened or outright def ied the NBA’s ruling corporate interests but has since been folded back within them. “One result of [former NBA commissioner David Stern’s] dress code is that it pushed players away from street wear and towards ‘respectable’ business attire,” says Kashmere. “The influence of Jay Z is significant here. Now you’re seeing
players borrow from high-end fashion and what we might call hipster fashion—the ‘cool nerd’ meme—adopting playful accessories and brighter colors, all of which are still signifiers of wealth and class. It’s a safe, fun image for the NBA to promote.”
Kashmere is an NBA fan, but he still sees the league as being essentially conservative, albeit in a way that doesn’t totally stifle its players’ rights to expression. “For me, the big takeaway from the [Donald] Sterling f iasco was the fact that it brought the NBA players closer together and gave strength to their collective voice,” he says. You can draw a straight line from that moment, with the Clippers turning their warm-ups inside out in protest, to Derrick Rose and many others donning “I Can’t Breathe” T-shirts.”
From Deep is critical, but it’s not a screed: it’s imbued with a love for the game expressed via
the director’s own ref lections and ecstatic imagery, both in footage drawn from game broadcasts and Hollywood movies and new material shot on playgrounds and in gymnasiums. “One of the goals I had for From Deep was to present both sides of the sport,” says Kashmere. “There’s the entertainment spectacle, which finds its ultimate expression in the highlight reel, and the everyday game. And to capture some of the specificities of playground ball that don’t usually show up in the movies: the distinctive nature of each neighborhood court, the social environments, the different mixtures of people – to demonstrate a glimpse of the amazing variety of how and where the game is played.” Which, obviously, includes Brooklyn—even if it’s a little bit ugly these days.