Directed by Daniele Anastasion & Nathan Golon
Immediately I Am Yup’ik feels cinematic. There is something remarkably different about how this film feels when compared to the series of short films which have preceded it in the 30 for 30 Shorts series. There is a level of craft which is evident right away, and carries all the way through the film, and I can only imagine the passion and vision of the film’s directors helps carry this craft. The 30 for 30 series has found many unique, untold stories about sports in its time, but there are times when the stories are more unique than others, or the treatment of the stories appears to be more dedicated than simply ESPN Films assigning someone to do a film about a particular topic, and that is what sets I Am Yup’ik apart from the other films in the series.
Daniele Anastasion and Nathan Golon deliver a film with such care and passion it can only be concluded that the story of Byron Nicholai, a 16 year old boy who lives in Toksook Bay, Alaska was one they felt needed to be told. Byron is a basketball player, like many of his fellow Yup’ik, whose ancestors have hunted and fished the Alaskan tundra for many years. Most play for the passion of the game, but Byron, by his own admission, plays as an escape. His father left when he was 14 and never looked back. But Byron is the leader of his team, who is getting ready to make a run in the annual district tournament, which is celebrated almost as a holiday among the eight schools, who are all-native, who participate.
What keys a short film as being a great one is the fact it felt like it could have made a great feature length story. Anastasion and Golon touch on many topics, such as the history of basketball in the region, the customs of the Yup’ik culture, the story of Byron and his family, and suicides rates in the Alaskan tundra, the passion for basketball by the natives and the story of the all-native district tournament, all of which could easily be expounded upon to further highlight this fascinating and personal narrative. Instead, I Am Yup’ik is a powerful 17 minute short which satisfies enough to pique my curiosity in learning more about this interesting community, culture, family, and their love of the game of basketball. It is certainly refreshing to see such a finely crafted story as I Am Yup’ik find its way back into the 30 for 30 series.