EXCLUSIVE: Filmmaker Ben Proudfoot, fresh from an Academy Award nomination, is heading to the Tribeca Film Festival with his latest short documentary The Queen of Basketball, the remarkable story of Lusia “Lucy” Harris.
Harris’ name may not be familiar, but Proudfoot describes her as “one of the most important American athletes of the 20th century.” She attended Delta State University in her native Mississippi, leading the women’s basketball team to three national titles from 1975-1977. And she scored the first basket in women’s Olympic basketball competition at the 1976 games in Montreal.
But her greatest athletic distinction undoubtedly must be this: Harris became the first and only woman officially drafted by the NBA, when the New Orleans Jazz selected her in 1977.
“I wondered how I had never heard of her, and where she was today,” Proudfoot explained in a director’s statement. “And when I had the opportunity to visit with her at her home in Mississippi, it became clear that Lucy’s story was much more than just a basketball story, and Lucy far more than an elite athlete and pioneer, but a gifted and open storyteller with a clarion memory.”
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Proudfoot, who specializes in short documentaries, earned the first Oscar nomination of his career earlier this year with A Concerto Is a Conversation, the story of African-American entrepreneur Horace Bowers Sr., who left the Jim Crow South to become a business success in Los Angeles. The film was co-directed by Kris Bowers, Horace’s grandson.
Proudfoot’s research on The Queen of Basketball took him to Harris’ alma mater in Cleveland, MS. He arranged to borrow a 16mm film of the star player, “apparently the only remaining footage of the great Lucy Harris they had.” But a chance conversation with a Delta State archivist proved fruitful.
“I offhandedly prodded, as a documentary filmmaker often does, ‘So this is all you have of Lucy, huh? No other photos or tapes or anything?’” Proudfoot recalled. “The archivist cocked her head and her eyes showed confusion. ‘Uh, no, there’s more… There’s a lot more.’”
Proudfoot continued, “From dozens of uncatalogued bankers boxes in the back corner of the DSU vault, our team digitized nearly ten thousand film negatives and sixteen thousand feet of film, nothing short of a documentary treasure that had laid in waiting for nearly half a century.”
Proudfoot, a Nova Scotia native based in Los Angeles, directed, produced and co-edited the film. Fellow producers include Elizabeth Brooke, Abby Lynn Kang Davis, Gabriel Berk Godoi, Brandon Somerhalder, and Sarah Stewart. The film is a production of Proudfoot’s Breakwater Studios and the New York Times.
The Queen of Basketball premieres Thursday as part of Tribeca’s Shorts: Go Big program. Watch the trailer above.
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