Sydney Freeland To Direct Native American Basketball Film ‘Rez Ball’ For Netflix

Sydney Freeland
Taylor Jewell/Invision/AP

Sydney Freeland (Reservation Dogs, Deidra & Laney Rob a Train) is directing the coming-of-age sports drama Rez Ball for Netflix.

The film described as Friday Night Lights meets Hoosiers explores the raw and exhilarating world of “reservation basketball” with its unique, lightening-quick pace that is rumored to have influenced top NBA teams and coaches throughout the years.

It follows the Chuska Warriors, a Native American high school basketball team from Chuska, New Mexico that must band together after losing their star player, if they want to keep their quest for a state championship alive. It’s an all-American underdog story about Navajo kids and coaches, told from the inside-out.

Rez Ball is inspired by Michael Powell’s critically acclaimed nonfiction sports novel Canyon Dreams, as well as the groundbreaking New York Times articles that preceded it. Freeland wrote the script with Sterlin Harjo (Reservation Dogs).

Maurício and Katie Mota’s Wise Entertainment (East Los High) is producing alongside LeBron James and Maverick Carter’s The SpringHill Company (Space Jam: A New Legacy), with SpringHill’s Spencer Beighley and Jamal Henderson exec producing.

Production will take place in New Mexico, and will entail filming on reservations, with the permission and support of local sovereign tribal nations.

“We could not be more excited to bring this beautiful, powerful story to life with this amazing team,” said Maurício Mota. “We are eternally grateful to the strategic guidance and advice of the Native American community inside and outside of Hollywood, especially Jodi Archambault (Hunkpapa/Olgala Lakota, former Special Assistant to President Obama for Native American Affairs), Crystal Echo Hawk (Pawnee, CEO of IllumiNative), Bird Runningwater (Cheyenne/Mescalero Apache, Sundance Institute’s Indigenous Program) and Notah Begay III (Navajo/San Felipe/Isleta, Stanford University, PGA Tour and philanthropist). It was through this community that we were connected with the extraordinary multi-hyphenates Sydney Freeland and Sterlin Harjo whom we spent the last several years developing the script with. We are so honored to be working with them and the brilliant team at The SpringHill Company. Rez Ball aims to be a love letter to the contributions Native Americans have made to basketball and also a launchpad for Native talent both in front of and behind the camera, ready to make their mark in the industry. We want this to be a blueprint for how to balance excellent storytelling with impact and pipeline development.”

“I am beyond excited to be working with Netflix, Wise Entertainment, and The SpringHill Company to bring this story to life,” added Freeland. “Basketball on the Rez is like high school football in West Texas. It has a fanatical following that few sports can rival. I’m also excited to be working with Sterlin Harjo on this. He has brought so much insight, humor, and heart to this story. This is a story that’s commonplace on Indian reservations all over the US, but most people aren’t even aware it exists. What we want to do is bring people into our world, to tell a story about the people and places we know, and what better way to do that than through a sports movie? We want to tell a story that is authentic to the place and people, told from the inside-out. We are so excited with the team we’ve assembled and can’t wait to bring this to the screen.”

Sydney Freeland is represented by The Gersh Agency, Luber Roklin Entertainment and attorney Nina Shaw at Del, Shaw, Moonves, Tanaka, Finkelstein & Lezcano; Sterlin Harjo is repped by APA, Circle of Confusion and Del, Shaw, Moonves et al; Wise Entertainment and Maurício Mota are with CAA and Del Shaw Moonves Tanaka Finkelstein & Lezcano.

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