Freep Film Festival to open with documentary on storied River Rouge basketball team

Written by Brendel Hightower

Posted 2024-04-08

Freep Film Festival to open with documentary on storied River Rouge basketball team

A group of youths striving to uphold the triumphant legacy of a storied high school basketball program in an unassuming Detroit suburb will be the subject of the opening movie at this year's Freep Film Festival.

The annual documentary-focused festival will begin April 10 at the Detroit Film Theatre, inside the Detroit Institute of Arts, organizers announced Thursday.

WTP Pictures

In keeping with the tradition of opening the festival with a local production, “Rouge,” filmed entirely in Michigan and led by a filmmaking team from metro Detroit, will kick off the five-day series of screenings and discussions.

“Rouge” makes its Michigan debut as a coming-of-age story set in the downriver community of River Rouge. The film follows the lives of four Black student-athletes at a school with the most state basketball championships in Michigan history, situated in one of the state’s most economically and environmentally challenged communities.

“The selection of ‘Rouge’ for this year’s premier slot is just another example of how rich and important Michigan stories are to the festival — and to our audiences,” said Kathy Kieliszewski, the festival’s artistic director. “We are thrilled to be hosting the Michigan premiere of this Michigan-made story that captures the heart of River Rouge and its beloved basketball team."

Past festival openers such as “12th and Clairmount,” “The Russian Five” and “Boblo Boats: A Detroit Ferry Tale” drew thousands for their local debuts.

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LaMonta Stone is the coach of the River Rouge basketball team that is featured in the film "Rouge".

"Rouge" director and producer Hamoody Jaafar, a Detroit native and Wayne State University graduate, described premiering the film in metro Detroit as "magical." “My hopes are that the community feels it was an authentic, honest, truthful and noteworthy representation of the city and school district’s historic basketball program and achievements both on and off the court,” said Jaafar. “The community was overly welcoming of us from day one, and they deserve all the credit and recognition in the world. I just hope they are proud of what we created.”

In the 1950s, legendary high school basketball coach Lofton Greene led the racially integrated River Rouge High School Panthers to a record number of state championships in a league of otherwise segregated schools. Now, almost 70 years later, LaMonta Stone, a former Panther himself, has returned to the struggling industrial town to help the Panthers chase the school's 15th state championship. Jaafar’s previous films include “Detroit Diamond” (2018) and “Enter the Cavaliers” (2020).

"Rouge" producer Razi Jafri, another Detroit-based filmmaker, has previous credits that include “Hamtramck, USA” and “Three Chaplains.” In addition to its primary characters, the film features appearances by Michigan State Basketball Head Coach Tom Izzo, Detroit Pistons announcer George Blaha and longtime Free Press high school sports writer Mick McCabe, among others.

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The April 10 screening will launch the 11th annual Freep Film Festival, which will feature about 40 events (in-person and virtual), including screenings, parties, filmmaking gatherings and more, spanning five days, April 10-14.

Link to Detroit Free Press full article.