Director-producer Jonathan Hock has made a career out of creating must-watch documentary films. “Through the Fire” (2005) told the story of high-school basketball phenom Sebastian Telfair as he decided between attending college and jumping to the NBA. “The Streak” (2008) was about the Brandon High School wrestling program in Florida, which began its 2007-08 season with a 34-year, 439-match winning streak. In “The Lost Son of Havana” (2009), Hock followed former pitching great Luis Tiant on his return to his homeland of Cuba. Last year’s “The Best That Never Was” profiled former football star Marcus Dupree for ESPN’s “30 for 30” series.
His latest film, “Off the Rez,” is equally compelling. Hock profiles Shoni Schimmel, a Native American high school basketball player from the Umatilla Indian Reservation in Oregon. Schimmel is a star in the making. High school scouts raved about her – “the skills and court instinct to make everyone in the gym pay attention each time she touches the ball. She’s uncanny both with her scoring and passing ability and it’s almost always with some flair. The range on her perimeter shot is pretty much anything inside half court” – but the obstacles that she and other promising Native American athletes face are unique: a persistent cycle of failure highlighted by teen pregnancy, alcoholism and diminished expectations. One such “victim” is Shoni’s own mother, Ceci Moses, a fiery woman who was sidetracked from pursuing an athletic career because of pregnancy.
The film follows Schimmel as she leaves behind the security blanket of the reservation for her junior and senior years at Franklin High School in Portland. Her coach is none other than her mother, Ceci, who is determined that the confines of the reservation will not stymie her daughter’s collegiate hoop dreams.
Executive produced by Kelly Ripa and Mark Consuelos, “Off the Rez” premiered at the 2011 Tribeca Film Festival in April and recently aired on the TLC network.
SportsLetter spoke to Jonathan Hock from his offices in New York.
— David Davis