Bobbito Garcia’s Playground B-Ball Film Festival
Playground legends hit the big screen this past weekend.
by Franklyn Calle
This past weekend, Harlem played host to a one of a kind film festival; one that was dedicated to playground basketball. The four-night event took viewers through some of the best films of streetball to ever be documented. NYC blacktop legend Bobbito Garcia aka Kool Bob Love was responsible for putting it all together. Mayles Cinemas, a non-profit organization in Harlem that specializes in documentary films, hosted the event. It is the only independent film house located north of Lincoln Center. The theater sits over 100 people with two separate screening rooms located on different floors. There was a suggested donation of $10 but no one was turned away because they didn’t have money to give.
Some of the featured films had never been screened to the general public, such as Air Force One: Anatomy of an Urban Myth, which was only screened this past summer during the World Basketball Festival to an invite-only audience at the Apollo Theater, and Hoop Hop Tour Japan, which up to then had only been screened in Asia.
This wasn’t the first time that Garcia assembled a single-theme film festival. In the late 90’s, he put together the first ever Hip-Hop film festival as part of the Rock Steady Crew anniversary. “I‘m just a dude that loves playground basketball, particularly I love independent films and documentaries. So, you know, I support their playhouse on a regular basis. I go to see music themes and African themes,” Garcia says. “They have this Jock Doc film series and they approached me about doing something that was special to me, so I told them that the theme should be for what I’m most known for, and that’s the sports world in the park. I had a lot of fun selecting the film that were part of this.”
He added, “Maysles Cinemas was phenomenal at getting all the permissions and the quality copies. Some of these films are really rare and some of them are lost. The response was great. There was some really interesting conversations after the films.”
Every night had its own theme and the featured films were picked accordingly. At the conclusion of the selected films for that night, guest speakers took center stage and discussions were held. The film festival kicked-off on Wednesday with International Night, featuring three documentary films about the development of playground basketball in France (Le Tournoi du Quai 54, 2006) , Japan (Hoop Hop Tour Japan, 1996) and the Philippines (My Game, 2007). The films took fans behind the scenes of the highly touted Le Tournoi du Quai outdoor tournament in Paris, Japan’s four qualifying players who competed in a 3-on 3 tournament on U.S. soil in 1995, and the Philippines’ most talented ballers.
Thursday night was all about the Entertainer’s Basketball Classic at Rucker Park. MTV’s Harlem Hoops was shown first. The 2003 documentary follows rapper Fat Joe and his Terror Squad team as they take aim at the title. An excerpt about Rucker Park legend Joe “The Destroyer” Hammond followed, and then the 2000 film On Hallowed Ground: Streetball Champions of Rucker Park reminisced the 1999 summer tourney and followed some of the standouts for the defending champs Bay Boy Records, who included “The Future”, “Half-Man Half-Amazing”, “Up North”, and “The Main Event”, while also going back to the days of Wilt Chamberlain, Julius “Dr. J” Erving, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
Friday night was all about New York City basketball. American Game, a classic film that is very difficult to find these day made its way to the big screen. Taking place in the 1970’s, the documentary follows the experience of two high school seniors encompassed by completely different environments.
“We picked a phenomenal film called The American Game, which was filmed in 1977 and aired on PBS in 1979. But in all my years in doing research, writing books, being Editor-In-Chief of Bounce Magazine, being the host of Madison Square Garden Network ‘s Summerball, I had never heard of this film, never saw any clips of this film or anything. So when I finally got a copy, I was amazed,” Garcia recalls. “Unfortunately, Tony Jones, the gentleman who was the creator of this film passed away this year. So Laura Coxson from Mayles really had to do her research to get a copy and permission to screen it. We finally got a copy from Adrian, Tony’s son. “
Following American Game came a five-minute clip portraying the NYC summer basketball scene called Heart and Soul of New York City. Closing out the night was the 2007 flick Asphalt Phenoms of New York City-The Lost Years, which captures what summer basketball was all about in the late 80’s.
And to wrap up the four-day basketball film showcase was Sneaker Night on Saturday. Have you ever wonder why and how shoes have ended up hanging from power/telephone lines? Well that’s exactly what Matthew Bate’s 2009 The Mystery of Flying Kicks tries to figure out. The aforesaid Air Force One: Anatomy of an Urban Myth had the closing honors.
Among some of the guest speakers that were available after each session were Entertainers Basketball Classic CEO Greg Marius, Anthony Heyward Jr. (aka Biz, aka 1/2 Man, 1/2 Amazin’), Anthony Gilbert, filmmaker Dorian “Black Stallion” Graham, and of course Kool Bob Love himself, among others.
The process of selecting the movies and narrowing down the list wasn’t an easy decision for Garcia. There were a lot of films that could have made the list and that he would have loved to showcase but unfortunately some had to get cut. “There are a lot of basketball films out there, but how of them are about the playground? That’s a very short list. Of that list, there were a lot of films that I would have loved to have included. For example, The Real Rucker Park Legends that Bob McCullough did. The Jack Ryan story called Release. You have the Hook Mitchell story — Hook — about Demetrius Mitchell,” says Garcia. “There were a lot of tough decisions and narrowing down to the eight I selected, but essentially my vision was to draw attention to the ones that were least known and that also fit into the four categories that I picked.”
Kool Bob Love is currently in the midst of putting together a film to add to the other playground classics. He’s teaming up with French videographer Kevin Couliau, the director of Heart & Soul of New York, as co-directors. Looking to debut it in either 2011 or 2012, Garcia and Couliau spent some quality time in the city parks of New York this past summer. “I’m working on a film myself. It’s called Doin‘ it in the Park: Pick-up Basketball NYC. This summer we went to 150 courts throughout the five boroughs of New York City and we amassed about 80 to 90 hours of footage, beautiful shots of cats just playing pick-up basketball. We interviewed Brandon Jennings when he went to West 4th, Kenny Smith, Kenny Anderson, and Corey “Homicide” Williams,” Garcia notes. “And then also the regular park guys that no one knows of, like Mark Norman and people that unless you play in that particular park in Tillary or Nelson, you are not going to know about. We had a real fun time getting their stories,” he adds.
The purpose of the film festival was quite simple: to educate basketball fans about the best players to ever play in concrete that you may have never heard of. Gracia didn’t make a dime from this. Neither did Mayles Cinemas. It was all about showing basketball fans that there is more to the game than what you see on TV.
“My continued mission has been to expose the unexposed. To a lot of people, basketball is just the NBA. It’s obviously my life dedication, the thing that I feel the most comfortable about,” says Garcia. “So hopefully they approach the playground and pickup basketball a little different now. I’m just about encouraging people to play and participate, that’s all.”
If you’re into independent films or documentaries, then visit the Mayles Cinemas website for information about upcoming screenings. Film topics range from social, political to cultural ones. Definitely worth checking it out if you’re in the NYC area.