At uncertain times like these, inspirational films can be a salve and reprieve from the outside world and a reminder of wholesome goodness.
Sports movies in particular are a frequent source for these moments of positivity, with themes of underdogs overcoming the odds or unlikely teammates rallying together for a common cause.
A new documentary – which won the prestigious Audience Award at the 2019 Hill Country Film Festival – is a sports film of a forgotten basketball hero who happened to be so much more than just the game he played or the move he invented.
Texas filmmaker Jacob Hamilton follows former University of Wyoming star Kenny Sailors over the span of more than seven decades from his beginnings as a three-time collegiate All-American and national champion as well as his professional career over six seasons.
Through archival footage and interviews with Sailors himself, Hamilton is able to explore the history of basketball until a single decision by one player changed the game permanently.
Then a game primarily played almost entirely on the ground, Sailors revolutionized the sport by being the first major college athlete to leap before shooting the basketball, providing a height advantage over defenders on the ground which rendered his shot nearly unblockable.
“Jump Shot” showcases highlights from the 1940s with Sailors dribbling around the court like a member of the Harlem Globetrotters, stopping on a dime and then rising up for a shot sports fans see in every modern game.
Hamilton and his archival team do a fantastic job of not only finding the footage with help from the University of Wyoming but presenting it in a myriad of ways that elevate the material and are visually stimulating.
One sequence in the middle of the film compares Sailors’ shooting form to that of all-time greats like Michael Jordan, Larry Bird and Stephen Curry, one of the film’s executive producers. Within a single frame, Sailors is rightly placed in the middle of the best shooters in basketball history with each man frozen at the top of their shot, visually confirming Sailors as a pioneer of the game.
Hamilton smartly also uses this archival footage as an interview tool, handing iPads with Sailors’ highlights to a wide variety of basketball legends including Dirk Nowitzki, Hall of Fame coach Bob Knight, Kevin Durant, Nancy Lieberman and Curry.
In a sense, “Jump Shot” could be viewed as a cinematic resume for Sailors to be inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, an accolade members of the University of Wyoming’s athletic department submit Sailors for during the documentary.
Sailors likely wouldn’t have sat for as many interviews as he did – appearing in the majority of the film over age 90 – if all Hamilton was interested in was basketball.
Notoriously humble, Sailors’ humanity and relationships with others shine through like a beam of light over the course of the 80-minute film as Hamilton reveals his courtship and marriage to Marilynne, which in part due to her health, led Sailors away from the game to the Alaskan wilderness.
From his military service to his dedication to family and those he taught, Sailors is rightly portrayed as an American hero worthy of the spotlight the film places upon him. His vibrant personality radiates off the screen so warmly that it’s impossible not to be charmed more by the man, not the legend of a sports revolution.
“Jump Shot: The Kenny Sailors Story” debuted last year at the South by Southwest Film Festival and spent the majority of 2019 touring at festivals across the country. It was slated for a theatrical release earlier this month until the spread of the novel coronavirus shut down movie theaters across the country.
Since then, the film’s producers have leapt on the growing trend of releasing their film digitally in lieu of waiting for theaters to reopen.
This worthy, inspirational documentary will be premiering for the public with a special three-day event release Thursday through Saturday, April 16-18. Audiences will be able to watch the film in the privacy of their own homes by purchasing a $7.99 digital ticket for a 48-hour viewing window at http://www.jumpshotmovie.com.
A portion of proceeds from this event will benefit the Convoy of Hope for COVID-19 meals in affected communities.
More than just a simple sports documentary, “Jump Shot: The Kenny Sailors Story” is a revealing, heartwarming look at a man who lived fully and unapologetically for others and it’s a film well worth seeking out during its limited digital release this weekend.