Michael Ward on Friday, May 17

Q BALL   Director: Michael Tolajian

Director: Michael Tolajian


Michael Tolajian’s Q Ball takes us into the San Quentin Prison system, where we are introduced to the San Quentin Warriors, an inmate basketball team who play as part of a larger amateur league against civilian teams who come to the prison to compete.

Executive produced by NBA superstar Kevin Durant, Q Ball opens our eyes to a different world than we are accustomed to seeing. It is widely known that prisons offer programs and activities to keep their population active, but the idea of a recreational basketball league, competing against other squads, is a unique topic for an emotional, moving documentary.

Tolajian’s film, which will open in theaters on May 17, 2019, and premiere as part of Fox Sports’ “Magnify” series on May 28, settles in on two main characters: Harry Smith, a 31-year-old former NBA prospect, serving time for a domestic violence charge, and Warriors head coach, Rafael Cuevas, serving time for murdering a baseball fan after an altercation in 1994.

Basketball has given them a release, a second-chance, and as we hear from Smith, Cuevas, but also the mother of Cuevas’ victim, Tolajian paints a picture of varying shades of grey. We feel happy the team exists, is supported by the Golden State Warriors NBA franchise, and has found a way for these men to better themselves. However, we also are reminded why they are where they are, and certainly can feel and understand the pain, anger, and frustration behind the mom’s desire to never see Cuevas return to civilian life.

Tolajian could dig deeper. There are multitudes of situations, circumstances, and factors which bring this team together, which are kept largely at a surface-level. You get the sense that he is wrestling with how to keep those facts in the film, but not lose focus on his thesis. For this team, and especially for Harry Smith, basketball was their livelihood. It offered the promise of shedding the weight of their struggles day-to-day and give them the chance to dream for something bigger.

The talent on screen is unmistakable. The game against representatives of the Golden State Warriors is a fun sequence. And yet, hanging over each frame, is the reality of barbed wire fences, cold, colorless prison cells, and the reality of the surroundings in which these hoop dreams manifest for a handful of weeks every year.

Q Ball is playing May 17, May 18, and May 21 as part of the 2019 Seattle International Film Festival
(Purchase tickets now)