VIFF 2021 Review – Handle With Care : The Legend Of The Notic Streetball Crew

The Vancouver streetball team ‘The Notic’ are the centre of Handle With Care: The Legend Of The Notic Streetball Crew.

If you’re a fan of streetball, you should know who the Notic are. The documentary Handle With Care: The Legend Of The Notic Streetball Crew tells the story of their formation, rise, fall, afternath and reunification. There more than meets the eye in this film.

The story begins with two Canadian-born brothers from Uganda: Jonathan and David Mubanda. Growing up in a country like Canada, they feel like outsiders. Feelings also shared by Joel ‘Joey’ Haywood, son of Jamaican immigrants. They discover they have a love for basketball and they’re dazzled by watching NBA games and the tricks of the players. They succeed in making their high school’s basketball team and they recreate some of the moves. However even if they play well, it gets on the nerves of their white coaches. One of them tells one of the boys to stop playing ‘jungleball.’

Streetball and 3-on-3 tournaments was something new at the time. That caught the attention of Jeremy Schaulin-Rioux and Kirk Thomas. They were a couple of teenagers graduated from high school and undecided what to do with their lives. Their first dream was to start a punk rock band. However when they saw streetball and the play from these boys, it changed their attention and they saw a new use for their video cameras. Within time, their group of boys who gave themselves the name ‘The Notic’ would grow and include Mohammed Wenn, Jamal Parker, Dauphin Ngongo: also immigrants of first generation Canadians. In 2000, their first video of their play, entitled ‘The Notic Mix Tape’ was released.

The video was intended to just be a video strictly for them and their friends. Over time, they would sell copies of the video on the street. Little did any of them know at the time the sales would skyrocket. But while the popularity of the Notic was growing, so was the size of the group. One was discovered at a 3-by-3 tournament. His name was Andrew Liew: a Bruneian immigrant who went by the name ‘6 Fingaz’ because he had a sixth finger on his left hand! They were also joined by Rory Grace: a white boy with delayed puberty who came from a troubled family background, but delivered some mad skills on court. Rory was nicknamed ‘Disaster.’ Actually all the boys had unique nicknames: Johnny Blaze, Where U At?, David Dazzle, Delight, Kinghandles and Goosebumps.

Next tournament was a streetball tournament in Vancouver in May 2001. That’s where the Notic really got their breakthrough and wowed the crowd. All of them were strutting the stuff and sure enough, Schaulin-Rioux and Thomas had their cameras in hand. They were catching their every move. They also caught their moves as they were ‘chillin’ out by the Surrey Skytrain Station or in the gymnasiums or in their houses. Then they caught a big break as they were invited to a tournament in Seattle. There they stole the show and it was Disaster that blew everyone away with his trickery.

Soon the Notic phenomenon was born. As Schaulin-Rioux and Thomas were busy making their next video, the Notic caught the attention of ESPN and Slam magazine. They were given interviews and Slam! magazine dedicated a seven-page article that included the players and the filmmakers. A website in the UK that promoted streetball had the Notic video on and it got over 100,000 hits a month during its heydays in 2001-2002, kids were coming up to members of the Notic and getting their autographs, even EA Sports recuited them to be the models for their streetball video game where they were paid $5000 each.

Then the Notic 2 was released in 2002, but that’s when the friction was starting. Jermaine was unhappy he was not included as part of the Slam! article. Many of the players were unhappy that their videos were getting a ton of views but they weren’t seeing a single cent for themselves. On top of it, all eight boys were teenagers growing into adults. Soon they were learning that streetball was no way to make a living as an adult. They all had to find their own direction.

Only Joey Haywood took basketball into the colleges. When he didn’t make it into the NBA, he was signed to a Danish basketball league. Joey now holds coaching sessions. The other boys, they found careers or paths of their own. One found work at a mosque in Edmonton, one is a contractor for interiors, another found work in promoting a charity. Rory is the one who had the most trouble since as he felt lost after the split-up of the Notic. He first dabbled in drug dealing and became in addict himself. He spent time in jails and in rehab, but lost custody of his sons. We see as he’s being reunited with his second son. One thing that hasn’t changed with the Notic is they still dazzle and inspire young players from around the world. The spirit of the Notic lives as Schaulin-Rioux and Thomas screen for all members Notic 3 made from kept videotape of Joey.

This is quite a story. It’s the story of a group of boys who were able to dazzle the world with their play of ball. It’s commonly called ‘streetball’ but I’ve often called it ‘freestyle basketball.’ You can look at this story many ways. You could even see the Notic as a group of ‘Next Generation Globetrotters’ straight out of Vancouver. This is a story of young boys who were either immigrants or first generation Canadians trying to find themselves where they felt like a misfit elsewhere. They either felt like they were substandard in school or they were dealt with racism around them. Basketball was their escape. Basketball made them feel like they belonged. Streetball was where they stood out. Their experience as part of the Notic proved to most that yes, they do have what it takes to make it. Eventually they would have to learn they were able to succeed without streetball as adults. However it was being part of the Notic that gave self-confidence to most when they needed it.

The story reminds you that not everything is grand. Schaulin-Rioux and Thomas did acknowledge they were young filmmakers who did not know how far their grainy videos would go. They didn’t know bootleg copies would find themselves around town. They didn’t know uploaded versions of their video would make itself worldwide on the internet. They were young filmmakers who didn’t know about the obstacles and pitfalls of the business. And the eight boys that made up the Notic, you can understand why they would become angered and feel like they were done wrong. Jeremy and Kirk do acknowledge the wrongs they did and that they weren’t as transparent. I guess that exlains why the main title of the documentary is Handle With Care. Also it shows that as Rory saw the Notic as a way out of his troubling family life, it was his everything. When the Notic split up, he was lost and that’s what led to his downward spiral. It’s a story you hear over again of young starts who hit the big time, see it as their everything, and then are lost when the big time disowns them. That was Rory’s case.

This is an excellent documentary from directors Jeremy Schaulin-Rioux and Kirk Thomas. In a lot of ways, it’s a case of a documentary as they are preparing to make the Notic 3. It stars as a case where the two meet with Haywood and come across old videotapes not shown in any previous Notic videos. We shouldn’t forget Notic 3 was never made; the Notic split up before it could be made. At the same time, making Notic 3 was not easy. They had to confront former members who felt they were ripped off in their fame. Jermaine is especially angry. However he makes peace with the two as they acknowledge their past mistakes. In the end, all eight of the former Notic players meet on a basketball court in 2019 to see the screening of Notic 3 and they celebrate reminisce of the old times. When you watch the documentary, you can see it as one of three things. You can see it as the Notic members telling their stories, you can see it as the documenting of the making of Notic 3, or you can see it as Jeremy and Kirk trying to make amends for past business mistakes and trying to make it up to the boys. Either which way, it’s inciteful to watch.

Handle With Care: The Legend Of The Notic Streetball Crew is a documentary worth watching. It will remind you of the heydays of basketball in the 1990’s and early-noughts. However it’s much more. It’s about a group of lost boys who opened doors for themselves by doing something they loved to do. Also it’s two filmmakers set up to make right past wrongs.

Movie Review: Beeba Boys

Randeep Hooda plays Jeet Johar, a leader of an organized crime syndicate in Beeba Boys.
Randeep Hooda plays Jeet Johar, a leader of an organized crime syndicate in Beeba Boys.

Back at this year’s VIFF, I was hoping to see at least one Canadian live-action feature. I didn’t have the luck. I was actually luckier after the VIFF ended as Beeba Boys hit theatres just a week after. I had the chance to finally see it for myself.

The story is about Jeet Johar, a Punjabi-Canadian mob boss who is seen as the big man in Greater Vancouver, especially Surrey. He’s seen by many in the Indo-Canadian community what many would see of a mob boss: a father figure, a leader, a man who helps his community and a man who tells other not to mess with their own.

However there’s another side to Jeet. Despite having a set of loyal men who carry out his actions, he’s a loyal father who’s concerned about his well-being. He’s very upset when his father drinks in front of his son and he’s concerned how his mother feels about him, even though he acts like it doesn’t bother him.

One time, Jeet is arrested for murder. The jury finds him not guilty and he wins the attraction of one of the jurors, the daughter of Polish immigrants. However the police know he’s guilty and they set up a man to join Jeet’s gang and have him set up for what they hope will be his capture.

Jeet faces a load of rivalry from other mob leaders, an Indo-Canadian business leader who has become hugely successful and various other Indo-Canadians trying to get a piece of their own crime action for their own gain. Meanwhile his love for Katya is growing despite her family’s opposition to her love to Jeet.

However with Jeet’s lust for power comes incidents along the way that send him a message he’s doomed to downfall. This comes from members of his gang being killed to even a shootout at his place, endangering his own family. This leads to an ending that is far from predictable but doesn’t make a lot of sense in retrospect.

The film has a lot of of good elements and ingredients brought by writer/director Deepa Mehta: the separation of the values held by the older Punjabis from the younger Punjabis who question and can even ridicule the values and loyalty held by older Punjabis. There’s even the perceived jealousy felt by a lot of young Punjabis towards those who have made it successfully and feel that they have to kill them to get ahead. There’s even the scene of how some children of those who have made it feel a distance from their parents and even feel neglected because of their parents’ focus on making it.

There’s also how one looks at the leader of organized crime as a positive thing, especially the young. That was especially seen in that young Punjabi boy at the beginning talking how Jeet tells others not to mess with them the same way Bruce Lee showed others not to mess with the Chinese. Typical young male with a ‘might is right’ attitude. There’s the feel of power associated by many with the might of the gun. That was shown when one of Jeet’s men gets a young boy to feel what a ‘real gun feels like.’ Even though he unloaded the gun before, it sends a message about how addicting the power of the gun can get. There’s even the feeling they have to rule the night club scenes as shown in many scenes in the film.

The film also includes many other unique and vital ingredients. One unique ingredients to the film include the mix of languages as it goes from English to Punjabi to ‘Punglish.’ Another good ingredient is not just the focus on Punjabi immigrants but also some minor focus on the Ukrainian aquacize teacher and Katya Drobot. Sometimes I think the film is not just showing the struggle of Punjabi-Canadians to exist socially in Canada but the struggles of many immigrants. I found it surprising since I live in Vancouver that is one of the most immigrant-friendly cities in the world.

There’s also the character of Jeet who’s trying to make like he’s the boss but struggles to be a responsible father and is easily infuriated when his father drinks. Soon Jeet would have to fess up as his son now thinks violence is cool.

However the main problem is that the film does not put it all together in a well-constructed manner. The film shows a lot of potential as it features a story within a topic that rarely gets proper focus and has offered few effective solutions in the past. However there are times in which the news stories and even the newscaster herself come off as too cartoonish. There are times when the story goes from telling a story of an Indo-Canadian mob boss turns into ‘preaching’ about the problem. I’ve seen other gangster films before that told a story that reflected a common problem in society without resorting to ‘preaching’ methods. There were even parts that came off as ridiculous such as mob rival Jamie being intruded upon during a fellatio by one of Jeet’s men. All I can say is for each Canadian gangster film like this, there are at least 50 American gangster films that are better.

Mehta brings an ambitious project with Beeba Boys however the problem is it’s not done in a well-edited, well-pieced manner and it comes off as unsteady, sometimes preachy and even confusing at times. I will however give Mehta credit. It’s obvious Mehta, whose 2005 film Water was nominated for an Oscar in the Best Foreign Language Film category, is presenting a topic very close to her concern: the rise in crime among young Indo-Canadians, especially around Surrey and other part of Greater Vancouver. Being a resident of Greater Vancouver myself, I often hear the news stories and concerns however I myself can’t really make a statement about this topic because I don’t have direct involvement with the Indo-Canadian communities in Greater Vancouver. Mehta however is very knowledgeable about this and she feels she has something to say about this. I give Mehta credit for presenting a topic on the big-screen that gets so little focus but I feel that it could have been done better as a big-screen film.

The acting was good but it wasn’t stellar. Randeep Hooda did a good job as playing Jeet Johar: a gangster leader who’s art tough guy, part concerned father and part troubled man. Balinder Johal was the best supporting player as the concerned mother. The mix of IndoPop or IndoRock were some of the best music that could have been added to the score while the more synthesized parts of the score didn’t fit well and took away from the professionalism.

Beeba Boys is an ambitions movie that attempt to send a message as it tells a story. However it makes a lot of noticeable mistakes and it doesn’t compare to many of the crime dramas before it.

The Dolphin Theatre: Gone But Fondly Remembered

014On Tuesday, May 27th, the Dolphin Theatre located on Hastings Street in North Burnaby showed its last shows. It would make room for a planned condominium project. The Dolphin Theatre doesn’t have the same legendary status as recently closed theatres like the Hollywood or the Ridge but it did provide a place for a community.

The Dolphin Theatre was a small movie theatre located in North Burnaby by the corner of Hastings and Willingdon. It was opened in 1966 and featured two screens with a total seating capacity of 430. It started as an independent theatre and continued to be successful at operating for a long time. However during the last decade, the Dolphin Theatre had been under threat from problems commonly experienced by most smaller theatres in Greater Vancouver like land development issues, rising costs of rent, the changing forms of entertainment and the changing technologies of showing movies.

People young and old came to the last showing at the Dolphin.
People young and old came to the last showing at the Dolphin.

In 2010, Rahim Manji started operating the Dolphin Theatre. Manji also operated the Hollywood 3 cinema in Surrey and Pitt Meadows theatre. For a look at the Hollywood 3 theatres he runs, click here. He has shown a wide variety of films over t the Dolphin but he mostly had family films showing for someplace in the neighborhood to bring the whole family to. Since that time, other theatres have closed down like the independently-owned Hollywood, Ridge and Denman and megaplexes like the Granville 7 and Station Square. Last year it was decided that a four-story mixed use development would be built on the area of the Dolphin. The project includes commercial space, residential units, and 11 wheelchair-accessible units for people with disabilities.

The Dolphin Theatre isn’t one in which I have been loyal to for a long time. Actually I just started liking it over last summer. I just decided to see We’re The Millers there one time because I wanted to see what all the buzz was all about. There had been times in the past i wanted to go there but distance and timing were almost always an issue. Finally I had my chance. It was a good theatre for those who just wanted to relax. Nothing grandiose. Nothing too styled up. Actually I think most of it has remained unchanged since it opened. As for the screen, they’d have an advertising system before the movies different from that of Cineplex or the other chain theatres. One more set for local theatres much like the one for the Rio Theatre, one of the last independent theatres in existence. Anyways I enjoyed the show and hoped to come back to see more.

Funny how it was only until then I realized how close I was to the theatre. Took me that long to figure out? Since that time I decided to go whenever a movie I wanted to see was showing. I would return weeks later to see Gravity. I remembered before the film, there were no trailers shown. Days later when I saw nothing on the website about anything upcoming there, I wondered if it was about to close. I researched the news and saw a story from months earlier of its fate in city hall. Anyways I was relieved the next day to learn movies were still being shown there. I also went to see Ender’s Game and The Hunger Games. I also tried a $2 Tuesday, one of the theatre’s big highlights, and saw Frozen with a couple of friends.

Then I heard the news when a friend posted the news story on her Facebook page. I was unhappy about it and I decided to go on its last day  May 27th for its last showing: The Amazing Spiderman 2. I got there ten minutes before showtime but by then, I was too late. It was too long of a line and already it was filled with people who wanted to visit the Dolphin for the last showing. Rahim handed out passes for a free movie over at the two other Hollywood 3 theatres for those who couldn’t get in. Fortunately I was able to talk to Rahim. I told him I didn’t mind not seeing the show but I wanted to see the closing speech. He was willing to do so.

The crowd at the last showing was a mixed bag of people: young and old. I’m sure there were some that came to witness the last day of the theatre but for some in the audience, they came to be part of a theatre that they were appreciative of. I’m sure there were many from the neighborhood of North Burnaby who came that night, appreciative of a place that helped keep the local kids off the streets. Just before The Amazing Spiderman 2 was about to start, Rahim and his other co-workers stood at the front and he thanked the audience for coming to the last showing at the Dolphin. There were times he had to hold himself back. However he ended his speech mentioning that independent theatres in Vancouver are a dying breed. There are only three left. That was a hard truth but necessary to be mentioned at that time. I talked to him after his speech and I wished him well with the other two theatres.

It’s true about the problem of independent theatres in Vancouver. I already mentioned the problems at the beginning and of some that have closed down. However it’s not the only problem. Two years ago Burnaby had three movie theatres to go to: the Dolphin, Station Square and SilverCity at Metrotown. Station Square had to be closed down because of a land development taking place. Actually all but a few businesses on that chuck of land that was part of Station Square that included a Future Shop and a Save-On-Foods had to relocate themselves and make way for the whole area to be torn down for the development. They’re still doing construction to it right now. It’s almost two years. Now with the Dolphin closed there’s only the SilverCity at Metrotown. It’s a shame only one right now.

I actually found out there will be a new movie theatre opening up in the redevelopment of the Brentwood Town Centre. I consider that to be a plus for the city as it gives the kids someplace to go to. However Rahim saw it through an independent theatre point of view and is unhappy it will be one of those chain theatres. That was a good point. I only know of the Rio and the Dunbar being the only independent ones still standing. Sure there’s the VanCity and the Cinematheque but they are involved with film on a higher scale and have their own offices there.

It is a shame that I was only able to know the Dolphin Theatre for not even a year. Too bad it closed recently. Nevertheless I’m glad I had the chance to visit it when I did. Sure I wish I did it sooner. Sure I wish I could do it now. But I’m glad I had the chance.

Goodbye Dolphin Theatre. Thanks for the entertainment you’ve given the neighborhood over the years.

The Dolphin Theatre: 1966-2014
The Dolphin Theatre: 1966-2014

VIFF 2012 Review – High Five: An Adoption Saga

The Wards and their five adopted children are the focus in the documentary High Five.

High Five is a documentary filmed over a five-year period. It’s a story about international adoption and about a couple’s iron will to let their heart win out over politics, finances, and inter-family strife in their attempt to adopt and parent five Ukrainian siblings. We don’t get what we expect to have but we do get an eye opener on the subject of international adoption and the lives of all seven.

We first meet Cathy and Martin Ward, a couple from Surrey, BC who’ve always wanted children. A car accident to Cathy ten years earlier to which she constantly needs operations for even now makes pregnancy very risky. They first decided to play host to a 7 year-old Ukrainian orphan named Alyona in 2006. During the visit, they learn that Alyona have additional siblings. They bring Alyona with her next oldest sibling Snezana the next year. The following year they visit all five at the orphanage in Gorodnya, Ukraine. They decide to adopt all five but laws allow them to only adopt two at the time. They first adopt Alyona and Snezana but promise the other three–Older siblings Yulia and Sergey and youngest sibling brother Sascha–that they will adopt them the following year. Politics delay the adoption of the other two siblings for years. After much struggle–political, financial and emotional–the three other siblings are finally adopted. Problem solved, right?

Not completely. Even before the full adoption process we learn of potential problems that could arise. The five come from an abusive household in Ukraine where their mother died and their stepfather was an abusive alcoholic. It took the courts to remove the children from the stepfather and put them in the orphanage. All five remember the abuse very well. The gap between the two adoption periods also has an effect on the siblings too as there’s a sense Yulia has lost some feelings to the two others. One thing to keep in mind is that Yulia, the oldest daughter of the five, acted as the mother figure to her four younger siblings in the orphanage. There are also the health problems of the two. Martin is a nurse at the BC Children’s Hospital but Cathy needs frequent surgery from her car accident and Martin has a bout of the flesh-eating virus. Sergey himself has a growth stunt that has slowed his growing down to which he’s only 4’6″ at the age of 17. The adoption process is also a financial risk. The process was very costly and Martin would have to take a nursing job in the territories to help make finances more manageable. Then there’s the fact that the siblings are growing up. There’s always growing pains and approaching adulthood for some. Even Sergey returns to Ukraine temporarily for better job opportunities.

The biggest difficulty appears to be the relationship of the family with Yulia. Yulia has always been a sensitive and emotional girl. Since the adoption, Yulia would now have to go from the mother-figure to the parented. This does not fit well with her as she’s so used to being the mother figure. Her relationship with Martin is mostly unaffected but it’s sour with Cathy. The bad vibe also doesn’t go well with the other siblings as they find her hard to stand, even Sergey whom she’s always been the closest with. On top of it, she’s a growing girl who’s graduating from high school, working a job, has a boyfriend and is entering adulthood. She had made two trips to Ukraine both for employment purposes and to meet with another sibling of theirs who was adopted by a Ukrainian family.

The documentary ends with Yulia still in Ukraine. She still has a negative attitude: “I have no mother.” The other four are still seen being parented by Martin and Cathy. The documentary ends with the six on a local snowboarding trip. As Martin looks out to them as they’re having fun, we’re left wondering what he’s thinking about as he watches them. As for the documentary’s ending, it ends with a ‘to be continued’ ending. It leaves off in the present as the continuing story that it is and leaves one asking questions. Will Yulia return to the family? Will the five be one again? Will any of the other sibling try to pursue opportunities in Ukraine? Those are questions only time has the answers for.

This documentary is a good example of international adoption and how it doesn’t always worked out as wished. It didn’t have a completely happy ending nor did it have a tragic ending. It just presents the story as is and is able to balance the positive aspects with the negative aspects. As I just said, this documentary ends without a real ending. It’s a story that continues to this day with the cameras no longer rolling and will have changes to the lives of all seven over the years. Nevertheless I wish the Wards and the five all the best in the future.

Directors Yulia Ivanova and Boris Ivanov did a very good job of filming this story which appears to be like a daily or yearly chronology of the adoption story over the five-year period. Even though most of the documentary is narrated by Martin, the story is seen through a wide variety of angles: both the parents and the siblings themselves. There are moments when it’s about the family and moments when it’s about one individual. They give the right focus for each situation. Sometimes they try to be mediators in this situation by attempting to help the interviewed subjects by giving advice behind the camera. That doesn’t become a weakness for the documentary. This documentary does give a feel of being like a reality show but this is not a ‘reality show’ as one would commonly associate with popular reality TV. There’s no sensationalism or explosive brattitudes. This is a real situation with real human emotions present and real problems and crises arising in the adoption process.

This is another documentary that’s meant more for the television than for the big screen. The fact that it’s produced in association with the Knowledge Network is the best example of why. From what I heard at the screening, it will be shown on The Knowledge Network in British Columbia in December. I have no information about whether there will be a DVD release for it. I feel it’s worth a DVD release since this is good teaching material. Those interested in international adoption will get a good experience to what it’s like and the potential risks that lay ahead.

High Five is as much a documentary that tells a story as it teaches. It presents a common story of international adoption that presents the viewer with the stories of the individuals as much as it does with the family. It’s worth watching.