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Knight at the Movies: The Heart of the Game and Daniel Wong
by Richard Knight, Jr.
2006-06-14

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Reminder: June is Gay Pride month and in honor of that, Windy City Times is presenting The First Annual GLBT Pride Movie Survey. This is your chance, dear reader, to weigh in with your thoughts on the Best, the Worst, the Campiest, and the Sexiest GLBT movies ( and more ) of all time. Head on over to www.knightatthemovies.com and fill out the online survey, results of which will be published in my column ( along with my list ) in next week's Gay Pride issue. One entry will win a copy of BOTH the forthcoming 2-disc Special Editions of Valley of the Dolls and Beyond the Valley of the Dolls ( courtesy of Fox Home Video ) .

_____

My niece is 13 and for the past two or three years has been basketball-crazy. No matter the weather conditions, she is to be found out on the driveway practicing her game. Basketball is all she thinks about or talks about and not even the end of the season can dampen her enthusiasm. So great is her love of the game that a recent family move prompted a crisis that was averted only when she was assured that her new school was as serious about basketball as she is.

This kind of passion is evident from the first frame of Ward Serrill's documentary, The Heart of the Game, which chronicles the ups and downs of a high school girl's basketball team in Seattle. Serrill, who makes his feature debut with the movie, has spent his career making short films highlighting social causes. When Serrill met Bill Resler, a tax professor at the University of Washington who had just started moonlighting as the basketball coach for the Roosevelt Roughriders, neither knew that he was about to embark on a seven-year journey that would result in such a terrific movie—the female version of Hoop Dreams.

Like all great sports documentaries, The Heart of the Game is filled with the 'thrill of victory and the agony of defeat,' but there is also a great deal of humor. This stems from Resler, a great camera subject, whose gentleness, sense of fair play and lack of ego stand in contrast to his abashed lust for competition. When Resler begins coaching the Roughriders, they are simply an adjunct to the boy's team and their games are barely attended by the students, faculty and parents.

But Resler's common-sense approach, revolutionary for a coach, makes an immediate impact. Though he makes the girls work hard and is clearly no pushover, he's also not a foul-mouthed drill sergeant who feels the need to impart punishing life lessons. Then, there is Resler's simple decision to allow his team players to take ultimate responsibility for themselves. Instead of pitting players against each other, he institutes an 'inner circle' for the team members and, in a brilliant stroke, excludes himself from the circle and abides by its decisions. Next, Resler devises a theme for each basketball season to help focus the team. 'Magical Journey' is his first; 'Pack of wolves' in which the girl's are encouraged to act as a pack of bloodthirsty wolves going after their prey, is his second.

This last idea is cautiously embraced by Resler's players his first year on the job. But the moment the Roughriders start winning under his direction, thus breaking a long also-ran streak, caution goes by the wayside and, by the second year of his tenure, the girls are howling and baying and almost pawing the ground before the start of their games.

Into this arena strides the confident Darnellia Russell, an inner-city African-American player who has transferred to Roosevelt based on the promise of college scholarships offered by the team's newfound status. At the outset of the film we see Russell on the court with Resler and are told immediately in voiceover by him that Darnellia is nothing less than the second coming. But wisely, Serrill waits until much later in the film to focus on the rising star. By the time Russell joins the Roughriders we are firmly in league with Resler's emphasis on the team over the individual. It's not surprising that the headstrong Russell will tangle with her coach and other teammates but there will also be one dramatic roadblock after another thrown in her path ( and the team's ) as she clearly emerges as something to be reckoned with.

As the story of the team and Russell moves toward its conclusion, Resler gets a bit lost in the drama—understandable as Russell's story becomes the obvious one to tell as the team moves toward their first state championship against Russell's previous inner-city alma mater. But as inspiring as Russell's story is, the Santa Claus lookalike coach with his gentle humor, his dog, his briefly mentioned family and his unaffected approach, is the more compelling subject—perhaps because it's been so rarely documented.

The film has a terrific music score and is narrated by rap star Ludacris.

_____

Daniel Wong is the feature debut of Chicago filmmaker Keith Dukavicius and it might just as easily been titled The Man That Got Away. During a rainy afternoon in the Chinatown area of Chicago, a young man in a long red shirt who is clutching a gray umbrella wanders about, looking in shop windows while unknowingly becoming a fantasy object. Angel, a toothy young lass with bangs and an artistic bent, immediately places ads imploring her 'Eurasian boy' to hook up with her. These are addressed directly to the camera, interspersed with point-of-view inquiries with acquaintances of the mystery man as she tries to track him down.

At the same time, Isaac, who has also spotted the cutie in the red shirt and dubbed him 'Danny,' begins his own set of fantasies which take hold as he returns to Hong Kong. We see him lost in his thoughts against huge close-ups of his beloved and later, during sex with a male lover, he cries out 'Danny' at an inopportune time. Meanwhile, as Angel tries to leave the obsession behind, a pencil sketch of Daniel slowly takes shape. Throughout, a battery of detailed close-ups is contrasted with the large urban loneliness of Hong Kong and Chinatown. Not much is said or happens in this mood piece but Dukavicius has a keen eye for detail and pacing and he creatively presents the unrequited yearning of his two leading characters.

Dukavicius has written, directed, shot, edited, produced and written the piano-based score ( as well as probably handled craft service ) for this interesting dual portrait of idol worship. I caught its mood and took the journey ( although I was confused at times about whether I was in Hong Kong, Chicago or both ) . But the ending, which seems to resolve one of the fantasies, I thought was a mistake—a rare loss of nerve for such an assured work. The film is getting a one-night screening, its world premiere, on June 16 at 8 p.m. at the Gene Siskel Film Center. The director and cast members will be on hand for a discussion after the screening. See www.siskelfilmcenter.com .


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