Basketball bridges cultures in new Chris Eyre film

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AUTHOR: Jan-Mikael Patterson, Navajo Times

Native American director Chris Eyre delivers an impressive
layup shot with his new film “Edge of America,” a Showtime original picture
airing later this month on cable TV, co-produced with Shelia Tousey.

The film opens as African American English teacher Kenny Williams, played
by James McDaniel, travels to his new teaching job at Three Nations High
School, located on a fictional Indian reservation in Utah.

All Williams knows about the new job is what he heard over the telephone,
but nothing could have prepared him for a world so far from his experience
– reservation life.

Williams soon finds that ignorance runs in both directions.

His long, weary drive yields to an initial meeting with the school
principal, who mistakes Williams for the new janitor. The new teacher also
is surprised to discover that the teacher housing mentioned in his contract
is a mobile home.

Upon meeting with his first class, Williams encounters insensitivity and
ignorance from one student, played by Eddie Spears (“Black Cloud”), while
other students look at him as a curiosity.

Williams does find one genuine friend in fellow educator and single mother
Annie Shorty, played by Irene Bedard.

Shorty doubles as coach of the girls’ basketball team, and the plot
develops around the team’s winless plight.

Williams admits he was an outstanding athlete in high school, and the
school principal immediately wants to involve him in helping to coach the
team.

The new teacher is not interested, saying that high school sports got him
“nowhere that reading a book would.”

But Williams reconsiders following a near-fatal car wreck and begins
recruiting players, which improves the team’s fortunes.

At the same time, Williams’ bond with the school and community grows as he
comes to see that on the reservation, high school sports offer people hope
and a chance to make things better.

With the team on the verge of going to the state finals, Williams becomes
obsessed with winning a championship.

As he loses sight of more important values, he is confronted by some of the
players, who show how his ambition is overwhelming the team.

Once confronted by his team, Williams is forced to look deeper into himself
and the traditional Native American cultures surrounding him.

Eyre, whose earlier films “Smoke Signals” and “Skins” have made him a
much-watched director, has produced another winner with “Edge of America.”
This is a dramatic and triumphant film, one that will leave many moviegoers
reaching for the Kleenex.

In the brief-but-memorable department, look for Navajo actress Kelly Ray
Vallo, of Chinle, as the short-tempered Raylene, and the charismatic Wes
Studi as Cuch, a local mechanic who befriends Williams.

Studi’s real-life niece, Cherokee actress Delanna Studi, also has a small
role.

The film premieres Monday, Nov. 21, on Showtime. Check your local cable
listings for times.

RELATED LINKS:


Chris Eyre to Direct ‘Indian Country: Native Americans in the 20th Century

Chris Eyre and Scott Garen Form New Production Company for Native American Films