Court Crandall grew up in Boston "playing a man's sport: hockey." He also wrote the loopy Will Ferrell comedy Old School. So what business does he have conceptualizing and filming an earnest free-throw shooting contest to help Compton High School students attend college?
Yet one notion about Compton that's true is that many families are unable to afford college tuition. So Crandall, the creative director for WDCW's L.A. office and a partner in the Seattle-founded ad agency (once known simply as Wong Doody), came up with a plan: With his agency's backing, he'd raise money for eight academically-gifted Compton High School students to compete in a free-throw contest, with the winner receiving $40,000 to put toward college tuition and the runners-up each receiving $1,000 for the same purpose. Oh, and he'd also film it. Hence the documentary Free Throw, which screens tonight and tomorrow at SIFF's Uptown Cinemas as part of the theater's namesake festival, was born.
If that sounds like Crandall rigged the documentary to come out warm, you're hearing right. "Most documentaries are often kind of depressing, because they're exposing wrongs and injustices," explains Crandall, who's in Seattle for his film's screenings. "My goal was to do something uplifting, and at heart I'm a screenwriter, so I tried to bake in some twists and turns."
Among the eight lucky contestants is a varsity basketball player for the Tarbabes. Yep, Tarbabes: According to Compton High's Maxine Kemp, while most people associate the nickname with "little black Sambo, that's not what it is." Compton High's campus used to be shared with a community college, and their nickname was Tartars--Mongolian Warriors--while the high school was known as the Baby Tartars, or Tartarbabes. When, as Kemp explains, "our demographic shifted"--i.e., Compton High's population became more black than white--the drill team began pronouncing the name as "Tarbabes," and the administration eventually elected to change the name to how everybody pronounced it. Since the '90s, Compton High's population has undergone another dramatic demographic shift: The school is now 72 percent Hispanic.
Crandall's film ultimately plays like a more youthful urban version of the cult doc Hands on a Hard Body, in which a couple dozen contestants maintain physical contact with a new Nissan truck for as long as possible, with the most durable participant winning the truck.
"Hands on a Hard Body, what happens kind of exceeds anything you could have scripted," says Crandall, whose film, despite the inclusion of the ringer hoop star, manages to do the same. "The free-throw line was a metaphor for all these lines that divide us as people. To have it go from a competition to cooperation was my goal."