by The People’s Minister of Information JR
First it was being a rapper, then an author. Now the Bay Area-based renaissance man known as Fleetwood, aka Robert Bowden, has taken it to the next level with his new documentary, “I Just Wanna Ball,” which has been selected to play at the San Francisco Black Film Festival on Saturday, June 14, 4 p.m., at the Lush Life Gallery, 1320 Fillmore St. in the Lush Life Gallery, San Francisco.
The documentary is about four members of Oakland’s McClymond High School girls’ basketball team, which won the Oakland Athletic League Championship in 2013, despite the abnormal amount of adversity they face living in the slums of Oakland. Their love and commitment to basketball has helped them to find a way out of no way. Check out Fleetwood in his own words …
M.O.I. JR: Can you tell people how long you have been a filmmaker? What caused you to get bit by the filmmaking bug? When?
Fleetwood: Well, I actually just got into the artform a year ago. I had been a rapper coming up, then wrote books. So I felt it was time to reinvent myself and elevate my pen. I watched Ice Cube closely, so that really inspired me to do it.
I had already been writing screenplays, so I presented my scripts to some people and they suggested I do a documentary first, due to my budget. I was blessed to have this story cross my path, my first visual project out the gate.
M.O.I. JR: What is your movie about?
Fleetwood: It wasn’t the victories on the court but the amazing triumphs off the court that were the making of these true champions. During the year of 2013, McClymonds High girls basketball team became a powerhouse. They went from a program known for decades as a loser to winners of Oakland’s Athletic League, the first time since 1976.
What they accomplished on the court was definitely staggering, but the bigger breakthrough was off the court. The personal hardships these girls had to face were countless, from the murders of friends and siblings to having to be the caretaker of a mother who is dealing with the medical condition of having the HIV virus. It’s a lot more than any teenager should have to navigate through.
For them, life and games take on a different meaning. Basketball is a breath of fresh air, an escape, a safe haven. It gives them a chance to maintain a GPA above 3.9, which they have been doing the whole year. These girls have no plans on giving in or giving up on themselves or life. Basketball takes them, and will continue to take them to a whole different world. If you ask them what it is they wanna do, their likely response would be “I just wanna ball.”
M.O.I. JR: When and where is it playing at the San Francisco Black Film Fest?
Fleetwood: Lush Life Gallery, 1320 Fillmore St., at 4 p.m. on Saturday, June 14.
M.O.I. JR: What was your creative process like? When did you start writing? When did you start shooting?
Fleetwood: Well, first after reading the article about the girls, I contacted the writer, then the coach and then met with the players. We talked. I told them what I wanted to do, and they said they would be excited, and they were glad I wanted to do a film about them so they could tell their side of life’s story. That was in May of last year when we started filming.
I gathered people around me who knew what they were doing. I’d like to thank Mike Brown from Inner City Youth, who is the executive producer of the film. He really believed in the project from the start. Along with Mike, I connected with a camera person, an editor and a crowd fundraiser and I pretty much just got out the way and became a student of the process myself.
Kali from SFBFF was very helpful as a mentor, giving me game about how to market and promote the film.
M.O.I. JR: What has the response been like so far from people from the City who have seen it?
Fleetwood: People love it and want more. They walk away inspired. The look I see in the youth’s eyes after watching it is extremely rewarding. In 2018, my hope is to do a sequel, “I’m Still Ballin’.”
Here are some comments on the film:
San Francisco Supervisor London Breed: “The young ladies in the film were truly inspiring. Their love for basketball and dedication to their education and desire to achieve great things in life is a testament that with hard work and determination anything is possible.”
Nola Brantley, director of MISSSY (Motivating, Inspiring, Supporting snd Serving Sexually Exploited Youth): “This film tells a story that is often missing from the community. The story of triumph and of young women beating all the odds. This film in not only truly inspiring but it also provides real life examples and role models for other young ladies and young men to look up to.”
Hip Hop journalist Davey D, founder of Hard Knock Radio: “’I Just Wanna Ball’ is a film and for many who will see it, they will say it’s good, but the real magic and more salient point to be made is why the film was made and the important void it filled. ‘I Just Wanna Ball’ gives voice to unsung excellence. ‘I Just Wanna Ball’ is a film about triumph off the basketball court. It’s about triumph in the fact that there were people so moved and inspired that they actually went out and found a way to make a film to share an important story with the world.”
Actress Rochelle Aytes: “Those girls are so strong and brave. Thank God for basketball!”
Felicia “The Poetess” Morris: “’I Just Wanna Ball’ is a heartwarming documentary that is sure to inspire teens and young adults who face extraordinary life challenges. I, myself, was very inspired.”
M.O.I. JR: How did you feel when you were selected to be in the SF Black Film Fest? Why?
Fleetwood: To be selected amongst so many for an idea I had a year ago, by an organization I really respect, felt really good. I had to sit back the other day and watch it again. I haven’t seen it in a while and I was like, wow, we started this a year ago. You know growing up in Oakland, San Francisco and the South, my hope was to do something with this project to inspire and motivate my people.
M.O.I. JR: What’s next?
Fleetwood: “God, Me and My Babies,” which is a short drama about a God fearing, driven, single struggling mother, the trials and tribulations she faces daily trying to keep her family together.
M.O.I. JR: What else are you working on?
Fleetwood: My dream is by 2015 we began the filming of my second book, “Bloodtest,” which was my first movie script.
M.O.I. JR: How can people keep up with you?
Fleetwood: Email email@example.com, fleetwoodsf on Instagram, Robert Bowden on Facebook. And I wanna thank you, my Brutha, for always holding me down. Stay in touch.
The People’s Minister of Information JR Valrey is associate editor of the Bay View, author of “Block Reportin’” and the newly released “Unfinished Business: Block Reportin’ 2” and filmmaker of “Operation Small Axe” and “Block Reportin’ 101,” available, along with many more interviews, at www.blockreportradio.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.