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Portland's basketball star shines on and off the court in 'Off the Rez'
by: COURTESY OF HOCK FILMS Former Franklin High basketball star Shoni Schimmel, now playing at Louisville, and her family were the focus of the documentary “Off the Rez,” which documents their life in Portland and their upbringing on the Umatilla Indian Reservation.

On March 21, 2005, 16-year-old Jeffrey Weise shot and killed his grandfather, a tribal cop, and his grandfather's girlfriend at their home on the Red Lake Indian Reservation in Minnesota.

Weise then drove to Red Lake High School, where he fatally shot a teacher, a security guard and five students.

Five more were shot, but survived, before Weise turned the gun upon himself.

The Red Lake Massacre was just another dark moment for Native Americans, whose history has been littered with tragedy. But, through the hottest fires of hell can come the most precious pieces of gold.

The event set into motion the making of the documentary film 'Off the Rez,' which premieres April 26 at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York. The movie follows Oregon basketball prodigy Shoni Schimmel and her family, who left the Umatilla Indian Reservation and moved to Portland and Franklin High for Shoni's last two years of high school.

'I'd like to think that there's kind of some good in any dark cloud,' says Nelson Hernandez, 'Off the Rez' producer.

A year after the massacre, Hernandez - a Puerto Rican from Brooklyn, N.Y., who has devoted much of his adult life to helping Native Americans - was at the Red Lake reservation, when he called director Jonathan Hock, to ask to show the tribe Hock's documentary 'Through the Fire' about basketball star Sebastian Telfair.

Hernandez, now a graduate assistant and video coordinator for the Utah State men's basketball team, is acutely aware of the affect basketball has on Native American life.

'When you're used to being a warrior and you're used to having battle and you're used to being able to do things together as a team and those things get taken away, you have to find another way to express that,' Hernandez says. 'Basketball provides the opportunity to do that.'

Hock's willingness to allow Hernandez to show the film began a relationship between the two. A few years later, after seeing Shoni play at an AAU tournament, Hernandez sent Hock a newspaper article about her and a note that said: 'This is 'Through the Fire Part Two' waiting to happen.'

Female Pistol Pete

Hock, a Queens, N.Y., native, grew up idolizing 'Pistol' Pete Maravich, wearing the basketball star's sneakers as a youngster. When Hock flew out to Oregon and saw Schimmel's breathtaking behind-the-back passes, show-stopping ball handling skills and seemingly limitless range from behind the 3-point line, Hock knew he had met 'Pistol Pete's' female reincarnation.

'The flare and the freedom, the capacity to innovate on the fly, what Pete Maravich did for men's basketball, Shoni Schimmel is doing for women's basketball,' Hock says.

Leaving aside Shoni's talents on the court, if ever there was a family a documentary should be made about it is the Schimmels. Ceci Moses, a Native American, and Rick Schimmel, who is white, have eight children together. When they moved their family to Portland when Ceci was offered a job as Franklin's girls basketball coach, they broke all stereotypes about Indians being unable to survive in 'the white world.'

Hock, who has worked on major documentaries such as 'The Lost Son of Havana,' about baseball pitcher Luis Tiant, 'The Best That Never Was' about Marcus Dupree and 'Michael Jordan to the Max,' knew the Schimmel's story was one he wanted to tell.

'The documentaries I make take place in the world of sports, but, they're not about sports,' Hock says. 'This is not a basketball film. It's a family story. All the films that I've made, they're all about families that need to connect or hold onto each other in order to make it.'

Shoni and her younger sister Jude, who also played on Franklin's basketball team, were excited about being in the movie.

'I thought it was cool,' Jude says. 'Like watching 'John and Kate Plus Eight.' '

Ceci and Rick were wary of Hock's intentions, though.

'It was like, 'Why would you want to sit there and watch poor Indian people?' ' Ceci says. 'That just baffled me. I didn't want to do it. I didn't want people in our life. And then I was afraid for Shoni. I didn't want people trying to rip her apart bit by bit.'

Hock was persistent, though, and finally gained access into the Schimmel's lives.

'He was willing to listen to the things that we wanted to have as more of a focal point, part of that being the culture, involving more of the family,' Rick says.

As filming progressed, Ceci was reluctantly pulled into the story, as were her mother and grandmother.

Part of 'Her Story'

Being followed around with cameras for extended periods over two years felt natural for Shoni. The hardest thing for her to adjust to was playing with a microphone battery wrapped around her waist beneath her uniform.

True to his word, Hock took pains to make sure he was portraying Native Americans in a non-stereotypical light. Hernandez says he often received clips of the film from Hock, asking for his input on cultural issues.

Toward the end of Shoni's junior year, Hock was asked by ESPN to use footage he had already shot for the network's 'Her Story' series.

For Hock, the short piece confirmed that he was telling a story that would resonate with people.

'It was a good opportunity to see how the story would play for people who didn't know anything about Shoni, didn't know anything about Native Americans and didn't know anything about women's basketball for that matter,' Hock says.

For Ceci and Rick, the film confirmed that their trust in Hock had not been misguided.

'After Shoni's ESPN piece it showed that he was able to focus on Indians in a very positive light,' Rick says.

Filming continued for another year. Hock followed the Schimmels trials of learning to live off the reservation. His cameras were rolling as Franklin made the OSAA state quarterfinals two years in a row. He stood at Shoni's graduation ceremony last spring when it was announced that she would be playing basketball for Louisville the following year.

Hock has worked with some of the biggest names in sports. But, the Schimmels' story means as much to him as any project he has ever worked on.

Just the beginning

When the film premieres, Rick and Ceci will fly to New York with their entire family. Shoni will be there with Louisville coach Jeff Walz. For now, there is no Portland showing scheduled, but that could change.

For Jude, who has decided to rejoin Shoni and play basketball at Louisville next season, it is strange to think that while Hock's story has ended, the family's story is still unfolding.

'It's just the beginning,' Jude says. 'I'm going to be a freshman and my sister is going to be a sophomore. We're still really young. The story should continue.'

As she sits in the theater and watches a movie showcasing her skills and her family's courage, Shoni hopes it will make a difference in the lives of women athletes.

'I want it to inspire women basketball players,' Shoni says.

Ceci wants the film to inspire other Native Americans.

'I hope it will be a good example for other Indians that you can be successful,' Ceci says. 'You just have to learn how to be.'

Hernandez is hoping 'Off the Rez' can accomplish even more than that.

'Through this whole process, I've felt like I've been guided by something above,' Hernandez says. 'Maybe people see this film and maybe there won't be another Red Lake.'