Competitive sports mean a great deal to many families around the world. But, in some areas, it’s the very heartbeat of the community, providing much needed distractions from the challenges all around them.
From executive producer Chris Pratt, the new documentary Alaskan Nets brings the viewer to the remote area of Metlakatla, Alaska’s last remaining native reserve. Home to the Tsimshian Natives, the Metlakatlan community is defined by their fishing industry and their passion for basketball. As their local high school team the Metlakatlan Chiefs gear up for their new season, their goal remains winning the State Championship, a feat they have not accomplished in over 35 years. Led by their coach DJ King, the Chiefs embark on an improbable run that they hope will help them leave their mark on their school’s—and state’s—history.
Directed by Jeff Harasimowicz, Alaskan Nets is one of the more heartwarming sports films in recent memory. Telling the story of one school’s quest for glory for the first time in 35 years, the joy of Nets stems from its honesty as we quickly realize just how important the potential championship would mean to the remote fishing community. In this remote corner of Alaska, basketball has become the primary outlet for the community. Set against the harsh background of the wilderness, the entire community turns to basketball for joy in the midst of difficult times.
However, there is more to this film than jump shots and three pointers. While the championship may be the driving force of the narrative, there is as much happening off the field court then on it. For example, although basketball may be the town’s passion, Metlakatla is a fishing town and all those who live there are expected to be a part of that tradition. Fishing and diving are dangerous work and the toll that it has taken on the community is apparent from the beginning. Lives are often lost amidst the treacherous seas yet the industry remains the primary source of income for the community. As a result, emotional family losses weigh heavily on the kids as their lives outside sports seem like an endless struggle.
Interestingly, Harasimowicz takes more of a team approach to his filmmaking. Rather than delve too much into the lives of the players, he focuses on their journey together through wins and losses. As the team works towards their championship dreams, they are reminded what it means to work together and put aside their differences for the sake of a common goal. Along the way, while the championship remains the goal, their life skills are developing as well. In this way, winning become secondary, even if it doesn’t feel like it.
In this way, Nets also speaks to the power of teamwork and the power of adults who mentor the youth. As the students navigate their difficult personal situations, teachers and coaches continue to remind them that this is only the beginning. Fully aware of the realities that await them outside of the school walls, the teachers and staff work tirelessly to prepare them for life off the court. Emphasizing education can be a challenge in a community where fishing apprenticeships take priority but they continue to fight for their students’ futures. In particular, Nets focuses a great deal on the role of Coach DJ King in their lives as he pushes them to be better players on the court and better people in the everyday world. Though his focus is on the care of his students, Coach King suffers abuse at the hands of parents and struggles to keep his players focused on living lives of respect.
Both heartwarming and heart-wrenching, Alaskan Nets is an absolute delight. Without giving any spoilers, the journey of this team is something to behold as they claw and scratch their way through the season with a championship held firmly in view. More importantly though, as they work together, so to do they grow together as young men. Because of the love and support of their teachers and staff, these players are reminded that their lives matter more than the events that take place on the court.
And that’s worth more than gold.
Alaskan Nets is available on VOD now.