It would be natural for moviegoers to think they are about to see a basketball film when they settle into their seats at the world premiere of Handle With Care: The Legend of the Notic Streetball Crew.
After all, the Notic was the most dazzling and imaginative group of basketball players who performed their version of hoops at Kits Beach and other local venues 20 years ago.
The Notic was the subject of two mixtapes by Jeremy Schaulin-Rioux and Kirk Thomas, two white boys from Surrey who documented the amazing theatrics of the mostly Black team.
Their star, Joey Haywood, a.k.a. King Handles, was himself featured in a short film by Ryan Sidhoo last year that encapsulated his career, which included playing pro ball in Canada and Europe and touring the Far East.
But Handle With Care is so much more than a basketball film. It’s a story about brotherhood and growing up, with all the deep emotions that this can entail.
Audiences at the Vancouver International Film Festival may want to brace themselves, because what they’ll see on-screen is visceral and real. A true-life, homegrown Vancouver story of discrimination and triumph, trauma and redemption, and joy and forgiveness. Plus a whole lot of streetball.
In a phone interview with the Straight from Toronto, where he now lives, codirector Schaulin-Rioux talked about how he had an inkling that one of the members of the Notic, Jermaine Foster, a.k.a. Fresh, was nursing a grudge dating back many years.
It was because Schaulin-Rioux and codirector Thomas had sold the mixtapes around the world of the Notic playing streetball without sharing the revenue with the players, including Foster. Foster later went on to work at Foot Locker before becoming a deejay.
It didn’t help that Foster wasn’t invited to a photo shoot many years ago in Slam magazine, a publication that they all worshipped as youths.
This tension plays out on-screen in the movie, turning the codirectors into characters in their own film.
“It’s a pretty shitty feeling,” Foster tells Schaulin-Rioux at one point in the film. “It’s why I have had a bad feeling for the two of you.”
Schaulin-Rioux told the Straight that this long-simmering issue caused him to look back on his experiences filming the Notic with “melancholy feelings” for many years.
But the opportunity to create the new feature-length documentary, along with an upcoming Notic 3 mixtape, has gone a long way toward healing old wounds.
“Now I feel like we can all just kind of enjoy it,” Schaulin-Rioux said in the interview. “I feel like we fixed a part of our childhood, in a way.”
In addition to Foster and Haywood, the film includes interviews with the other Notic players: Rory Grace (“Disaster”), Andrew Liew (“Six Fingaz”), David Mubanda (“David Dazzle”), Jonathan Mubanda (“Johnny Blaze”), Dauphin Ngongo (“Delight”), Jamal Parker (“Where you at”), and Mohammed Wenn (“Goosebumps”).
“I feel like, unprompted, almost every guy talked about how that time was just super-foundational in their lives and to this day inspires them in terms of their creativity and in terms of their families,” Schaulin-Rioux said. “Just being a part of something when you’re coming of age is an important part of everyone’s life.”
Their wizardry on the basketball court two decades ago was captured by Schaulin-Rioux and Thomas in scores of videotapes that were stored in Schaulin-Rioux’s father’s home near Pemberton.
In addition, the codirectors took a bunch of extra footage of Haywood over the years as he maintained a steely determination to play professionally.
The racism that Haywood experienced in Canada’s official basketball circles for simply “playing Black”, as he told the Straight last year, weighed heavily on him. And it comes across very vividly on-screen.
Others, such as Wenn and Jonathan Mubanda, became deeply spiritual.
But there were difficult times for some of them along the way. Grace’s nickname, Disaster, proved prophetic until he managed to conquer his inner demons and turn his life around.
Schaulin-Rioux credited Sidhoo, the film's executive producer, for encouraging him and Thomas to complete the film. And Schaulin-Rioux is impressed by how so many of the Notic players turned out as adults.
That includes Haywood, who became a successful entrepreneur teaching streetball to the next generation. Haywood never gave up on his dream, even after being humiliated by high-school coaches in Vancouver for showing emotion and creativity on the court.
“He’s like a superhero,” Schaulin-Rioux said. “He always has been.”