Aug. 15, 2019

Film looks at high school sports from the sidelines

Could this be the next big out-of-nowhere hit on the festival circuit?

“Storytelling” is a word that gets a lot of play these days, whether it’s in print, at an indie folk festival — or at a Calgary high school.

For the past three weeks, in the gym at Queen Elizabeth High School (a.k.a. Queen E), we found a posse of UCalgary alumni doing just that — telling stories — in the soon-to-be-released film that bears one of the longest, most literal titles ever penned: Events Transpiring Before, During and After a High School Basketball Game. 

On a bench, under a banner that transforms Queen E into fictional Middleview High School, sits superstar Andrew Phung, BA’06, of Loose Moose fame and most recently the award-winning CBC series, Kim’s Convenience, looking glum as he watches a ragtag team of local high school kids try to play basketball. Directing Phung and the players is another alumnus, Ted Stenson, BA’09, MFA’14, who also wrote the 100-page script based on his time at this school. Alumni Nicola Waugh, BA’06, and Kevin Dong, BA’16, are the film’s producers.

“I played a lot of sports in this very gym,” explains Stenson, who graduated from Queen E in 2002. “Sure, we won one city championship in volleyball, but what I most remember isn’t the winning shot or the action of the game. It’s the stuff on the sidelines, in the bleachers . . . and, oddly, what the drama students were doing at the time. The absence of actual basketball action in this film was very intentional.”

What Stenson strove to avoid while penning this script were the classic tropes behind so many sports movies, such as the underdog who comes out of nowhere to win the final match, or the star player who gets corrupted by outside authority figures. No ham-fisted, heartstring-tugging sappy stereotypes here, says the only director in Alberta to receive funding through Telefilm’s Talent to Watch program, which helped finance this production.

Phung, who just wrapped his fourth season as Kimchee on Kim’s Convenience, says “it was the uniquely Calgary voice of the film” that brought him back to his hometown. “Not a cowboy voice but a Calgary voice . . . one that sounds like everyday, grounded people. Plus, I was a teenager myself in the late ’90s, so I felt like I was reading myself when I first saw the script.”

As for his character — a middle-aged assistant coach frustrated by the head coach’s direction and the players’ lack of talent — Phung was searching for something different than his typical roles as Kimchee (in Kim’s Convenience) and Eddie (The Beaverton).

“I want to be sure I don’t just settle into one type of character,” explains the owner of 400 pairs of sneakers. “That’s what I love so much about improv . . . you get to play so many different characters. And this character certainly wasn’t my usual.”

Follow the project and learn about future screening information.