The last place Shaina Allen expected to find inspiration for her directorial debut and first feature film was at a dog park along Biscayne Bay. Well, technically, she didn't — someone else did. Allen would occasionally run into a man named Parnes Cartwright and his wife Betsy. Casual conversations led to a friendship, and eventually Cartwright shared with her an idea.
Cartwright is head coach of the Miami Heat Wheels, an underfunded and struggling Miami-Dade County wheelchair basketball team. The coach thought Allen, who was only a year out of film school, could help by making a promotional video to show to potential donors. Without knowing much about the world of wheelchair basketball, she obliged. Allen didn't know it then, but her good deed would turn into a feature documentary. The Rebound will make its world premiere at 33rd-annual Miami International Film Festival this Saturday, March 5.
The film follows the Miami Heat Wheels on a season-long journey after their defeat at the national championships. It centers on the adversity three players face while trying to juggle their everyday struggles, the pressure to perform for their team, and trying to win it all. The storyline delves into each player's tribulations and examines how the sport turned strangers on the verge of losing hope into brothers.
Chants of "Let's go Heat!" never meant this much. Not on Biscayne Boulevard. Not in the NBA Finals. Not anywhere.
Allen quickly realized that what began as a single tripod in a gymnasium needed to bloom into something much more. She wasn't simply witnessing a small group of Miami men down on their luck; she had encountered a world filled with triumph and strength that she wanted to put on film so others could experience and learn from it too.
"It happened very organically," Allen says. "I can’t pinpoint an exact moment where I said, This is going to be a feature documentary, but there was a moment when I realized this story was much bigger than just one wheelchair basketball team struggling for funding."
Along with producer Michael Esposito and her film crew, Allen embarked on a three-year journey that culminates this Saturday when The Rebound debuts in the very place it began. The documentary is a fantastic local story most Miamians had no idea was happening right beneath their noses, she says.
"It is so special that The Rebound is world-premiering in the city where the story was born," the filmmaker says. "All of the athletes will be [at the premiere] to share this experience with the Miami audience. Locals will be proud of their city for the accomplishments of their Miami Heat Wheels — even though prior to seeing the film, they may not have heard of the team."
As is the case with most documentaries, The Rebound looks to strike a chord with viewers — it wants to make them think. Allen hopes the film allows audiences to better understand the extreme difficulties of living with a disability and also works as a reminder that whatever life throws your way, you can overcome it.
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"The characters from the film and the story we chose to follow have the ability to inspire every person despite their abilities, because on some level, we all face challenges in our lives, and it’s up to us to choose how we will respond to those challenges," Allen says.
"Do we sit back and let things happen to us? Or do we choose to keep going, keep pushing through the heartache, the pain, the loss? I want everyone to know this sport, because the moment you do, you start to question all of your preconceived notions about what it means to be disabled.
"Hopefully, this story will help people start to look beyond the wheelchair, beyond the disability, and realize this beautiful person is just a person — they are not defined by their disability."