By Tony Xu
Sports documentaries tend to appeal primarily to diehard fans, but Finding Big Country is different: it has a story that even those who don’t know the basic rules of basketball can deeply connect with.
“It’s more than a basketball story,” Kat Jayme, the film’s director explains. “The themes are universal. A lot of people told me after screenings they didn’t care about basketball but were still moved by the film.”
Finding Big Country shows us that struggles can be inspiring, that challenging moments shouldn’t be erased from history, that childhood heroes are important, and that our relationships with our greatest passions can be extremely complex. It dares us to optimistically rethink what unfulfilled goals really mean and leaves us reevaluating one of Vancouver’s most denigrated public figures.
The film took home the People’s Choice Award at the Vancouver International Film Festival before screening in Oklahoma and Toronto. It will be shown again at Vancity Theatre in December.
Jayme says she’s in discussions to screen the film at even more film festivals around North America. “It’s a filmmaker’s dream to share their story with as many people as possible.”
Long before she was an award-winning filmmaker, Kat Jayme was a little girl living in Vancouver with an obsession about basketball. Bryant “Big Country” Reeves, the star basketball player for Vancouver’s now-defunct NBA team, the Vancouver Grizzlies, was Jayme’s childhood inspiration for dreaming big. She aspired to play professionally, just like Reeves.
Reeves’ basketball skills landed him a $61.8 million contract with the Grizzlies, but shortly after signing the deal, circumstances beyond his control spiralled downhill. Multiple injuries prevented him from performing anywhere close to his best and the team’s ignominious six-year run in Vancouver ended with a move to Memphis. Before playing a single regular season game in Memphis, Reeves’ injuries forced him into retirement, and he instantly became the scapegoat for the team’s failures.
And then he disappeared. For a person standing over seven feet tall and weighing around 300 pounds, he did a phenomenal job of going missing. Former teammates, coaches, staff members, and media members all claimed they lost touch with him.
Remnants of the Grizzlies also disappeared. The film shows Jayme walking around Rogers Arena, the former home of the team, and then later on at the British Columbia Sports Hall of Fame, almost intrusively searching for something that acknowledges the team’s existence, but still failing to see meaningful traces.
Bryant Reeves and the Vancouver Grizzlies inspired Jayme, as well as a generation of basketball fans. Regardless of the final score at games, does an organization and its members deserve to be erased from the city’s history and forgotten forever? This is one of the themes Jayme explores as she embarks on a very personal mission to find Reeves. But she’s also curious how Reeves would reflect upon his own basketball career.
Spoiler alert: she finds Reeves, in Gans, Oklahoma, a place with a population of 312. The giant graciously welcomes Jayme into his home, shows her his “man cave” full of Vancouver Grizzlies memorabilia, and even plays a game of one-on-one against the 5’1” Jayme.
While members of the press have tried futilely for years to reach Reeves, Jayme believes she was successful in actually connecting with him because she wasn’t just any reporter looking for a story. “It was definitely a risk pursuing this project knowing I might not have been able to find Big Country, but I think being a childhood fan helped. I approached him as a fan and independent filmmaker.”
In conversations with Jayme throughout the film, Reeves expresses disappointment with how his basketball career ended, but also acknowledges that he is proud he was a player on the team. As emotionally difficult as it was, he has come to terms with the fact that his playing career would have eventually finished and enjoys the simple life he found afterwards on his farm pursuing an interest he never had an opportunity to fully appreciate as a professional NBA player: cattle ranching.
This film is compelling because there are more layers to the story that go beyond the original script. Reeves’ story organically mirrors Jayme’s own. When Jayme got cut from the women’s basketball team at UBC following a stellar high school basketball career, she was heartbroken – what she had loved most was taken away from her.
Often the smallest player on the basketball court, Jayme played with passion and hustle like no other. The film features old clips of her draining shot after shot and diving for loose balls in tournaments. But like Reeves, being forced to hang up the sneakers provided Jayme with time to rediscover and thrive in another passion: filmmaking.
“In high school, I remember thinking about how much I loved basketball, but also how much I loved film, and started wondering what I was going to really pursue,” Jayme explains. “I wouldn’t be able to admit it to myself back then, but my passion for basketball started to die down a little while my passion for filmmaking grew.”
Basketball taught both Reeves and Jayme to chase dreams fearlessly and showed them how painful it is to walk away from something you dedicated your all to. But it also revealed something else: dreams never die – they just change, sometimes for the better.
Anyone who has ever pursued something passionately could relate.
Finding Big Country is screening Dec. 7 to 13 at VanCity Theatre.documentary, film, finding big country, Kat Jayme, vancouver grizzlies