Keone Davis at a court in Toronto, Canada
© Yasin Osman
Basketball

Watch Toronto’s hoop dream unfold in True North

Canada produces the most NBA talent outside of the United States, and Toronto, home of the Raptors, is at the epicentre of the boom. True North celebrates the new wave of talent on the come up.
By Andrew Millard
6 min readPublished on
In collaboration with the National Film Board of Canada, True North is a nine part docu-series that provides an intimate look at the rise of the Toronto hoop dream through the stories of five young athletes. Inspired by the wave of NBA talent coming from their city, director Ryan Sidhoo captures the raw emotion of navigating today’s youth basketball machine through the eyes of the city’s players, coaches and families at the centre of it. At its heart, the series is about ambition, the pursuit of full-ride scholarships, generational immigration and the intersection of luck and opportunity.
Alex Wong sat down with Sidhoo to talk about how this project came together and what it was like following these young athletes for over two years.

23 min

Inside the Rise of Toronto Basketball

Meet basketball pioneers who've grown the game and get to know a group of young hopefuls chasing their dreams.

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Alex: What does True North mean to you, personally?
Ryan: It starts with my childhood love of basketball. Growing up in Vancouver and being second generation Canadian, there was never this built-in family history of skiing or hockey. My father identified with basketball, he loved Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and the showtime Lakers. Naturally, I gravitated toward basketball and felt at home within this multicultural and tight-knit community of the sport in Vancouver at that time.
Alex: How did this project end up coming together?
Ryan: Back when I was in grad school studying film in New York, I wanted to do a project on the streetball legend Fly Williams. While I was trying to track him down, I ended up at a few youth basketball camps. Now at this time, YouTube was really peaking and everyone had cameras out filming their kid and making highlight reels. Then, you started to see a bunch of ranking websites pop up. It was eye-opening and I became intrigued with this boom in the grassroots marketing of young athletes and growing youth basketball industry. I knew something was there for a compelling project.
Years later, I saw what was happening with the growth of basketball in Canada, and I felt this project would be more personal and fresh from a Canadian angle, and that is when the wheels started turning for True North. Eventually, I brought it to Shirley Vercruysse at the NFB and it took off from there. She was able to connect the dots with Red Bull Media House and here we are now.
Alex: This is NFB’s first ever digital documentary series, how did you decide on this format to tell your story?
Ryan: There was a bit of talk about producing a feature but it made sense to craft True North as a digital series from the start. You have to consider shifting viewing habits where shorter forms are more accessible and then, just looking at the number of stories we wanted to share and the themes that arise from each unique on-screen journey, it was cleaner to construct it as a series.
Alex: How did the form influence the content?
Ryan: We were working with runtimes of either 15 minutes or 23 minutes for each episode. We had to work within those parameters but creatively, we had a blank slate within those runtimes. This is different from a broadcast show where there is allotted time for each act before a commercial break. For editor Graham Withers and I, it was if were crafting 9 short films and each was their own individual beast.
Sure, there are certain conventions that add consistency between each episode like the cold open that ends with the title card, but what worked so well for one episode, might not work for another. At times, it was frustrating trying to tell nuanced narratives balanced with the right pacing and emotion all in 15 minutes. There was a lot of trial and error to find the right recipe but it just forced us to be economical and focused storytellers.
Alex: What interested you about basketball in Canada?
Ryan: It just starts out as a kid on the west coast hungry for basketball news. I would get little snippets in the paper about guys like Denham Brown scoring 111 points and going to UCONN. As a basketball fan in Canada, where hockey dominated sports media, coverage like that gave you a sense of pride. Then as the years pass, I would see more Canadians thriving down south on bigger and bigger stages. All of sudden, Canadians are getting drafted and impacting the NBA.
As a filmmaker, I started to become very curious about this boom in talent from our country. How did this all happen? Getting to the core of that in True North and sharing that story was a fun journey to go on.
Alex: Was there a particular story arc that you grew attached to?
Ryan: It was a bit like time travel because every kid represents a stage in adolescence I have already gone through and you are taken right back there, living those moments with them. It was refreshing to tap into that youthful spirit.
Alex: What did you learn from making the film?
Ryan: I learned a lot about parenting and managing the aspirations of a child who wants to play sports at the highest level. You could see how playing your cards right could give you a legit shot at the NBA. You start to see the blueprint so to speak.
At the same time, you see how situational everything is. There is this element of luck and timing that can factor in to getting to that next level or not. And then ultimately , you realize “making it” to the next level does not mean you have to play the sport, it could mean coaching or being the team doctor.
I felt all of the parents and coaches in the project are doing a solid job shepherding their kids through their unique paths and not getting swept up in the hype. Basketball can be painfully unforgiving and I felt most parents and even the kids understand that.
Alex: The series is launching online, through NFB and Red Bull Media House. As a filmmaker what are your expectations for this launch?
Ryan: As a filmmaker, you want the content to be accessible and have people watch it. So, the fact that it’s free through these two platforms is a big win. Also, the basketball community, from the grassroots level to the NBA, have always been leading the sports world when leveraging social media and digital platforms. The release organically fits into how our core audience consumes content, which is something we considered for the release.
Alex: Why should people watch this film?
Ryan: It’s a project that is rooted in generational immigration and community. At its core, the story of basketball in Canada is an underdog tale and now the sport is shaping our identity on the world stage - that’s a big deal. At the same time, we were able to tell this national story from personal and intimate points of view.
Watch the full True North series on Red Bull TV.

Part of this story

True North

Take an intimate look at the rise of the Toronto hoop dream through the stories of five young athletes.

1 Season · 9 episodes
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