Section: Arts

Kamal Aubakirov ’22 stars in Kazakh basketball documentary

Kamal Aubakirov ’22 stars in Kazakh basketball documentary

Kenyon students may currently find themselves scattered across the world right now, some far-flung from the Hill. Students may also find themselves online more, watching Netflix, Hulu and YouTube to pass the time. Thanks to a new documentary out last week, Kenyon students can add some variation to their binge-watching while getting to feel, for a few moments, as though they are back in Gambier.

KAMAL | КАК ИГРАТЬ БАСКЕТБОЛ В СТУДЕНЧЕСКОЙ ЛИГЕ В США (How to Play College Basketball in the USA) is a documentary by the renowned Kazakh filmmaker Kana Beisekeyev. The documentary has already garnered over 60,000 views on YouTube. It is a 30-minute affair filmed over the winter and early spring that takes the viewer from the concrete courts of New York to a high school gym in Almaty, Kazakhstan, but spends most of its time in a quiet college town in Central Ohio.

The film stars Kamal Aubakirov ’22, a wing player and sharpshooter on the Lords basketball team. He is filmed on the court, in class and face-to-face with Beisekeyev. The documentary tells the story of Aubakirov’s decision to play basketball in the United States, from a bad showing at a skills camp intended to introduce players to recruiters, to his prep school days at Kimball Union Academy in Meriden, New Hampshire, to his final arrival at Kenyon to learn the life of a student-athlete. The film focuses not only on Aubakirov’s own story, but on the nonprofit organization he runs with his brother, Askar, 360 Mentors.

For Aubakirov, the film demonstrates a possibility that is often overlooked in Kazakhstan.

“It is very common for kids in the US to juggle academics with athletics and actually be pretty successful at both, whether it is in high school or college,” he wrote in a message to Collegian. “But this is not quite a reality for kids back in Kazakhstan or any other Central Asian country. You have to pick either one or the other.”

The film follows Aubakirov into the classroom—featuring cameos from his classmates and Associate Professor of Economics PJ Glandon—through campus and onto the court. There are shots of Aubakirov shooting alone, shots of practice, scenes from in the locker room and clips from games.

According to Aubakirov, Beisekeyev was in New York City shooting for other films when Aubakirov’s brother reached out to him to talk about  the brothers’ nonprofit. Beisekeyev agreed to spend a weekend at Kenyon over the winter. After that, Aubakirov visited Beisekeyev in New York City for more filming, and finally, they met up once more in Almaty for a day over spring break.

While Kenyon students will delight in images of their campus and classmates, the New York scenes are the film’s best. They depict Aubakirov in repose, holding a basketball on a subway. They depict him on the various outdoor concrete courts in the city, draining shots on weathered rims beneath brick high-rises. Aubakirov and Beisekeyev travelled around the city in search of some pickup games to play, so that Beisekeyev could capture some action shots, but the cold weather was keeping people off the court.

Instead, the duo met Jarrett Tucker, a New Yorker with Texas roots, in famed Rucker Park. Tucker just happened to be there, but the scenes with him demonstrate basketball’s universality. In a scene towards the end of the film, Beisekeyev talks to Tucker about the role basketball has played in Tucker’s life. “Basketball is like telling a story, you know, through the grind, through the workouts, through the highs and lows…it’s just a beautiful thing, man, that I think everybody can connect with,” Tucker tells the camera.

Indeed, whether it’s Aubakirov’s clutch corner 3-pointers or a crushing defeat to Ohio Wesleyan University, Beisekeyev captures the story basketball can tell and packages it for a global audience. Specifically, Aubakirov hopes the film will reach the countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States, which is an organization of Eurasian, post-Soviet states which includes Kazakhstan.

“We hope that people will push more towards the idea that it is not only okay to both study and play sports, but it will only benefit you in the long run,” Aubakirov said. He said he would like the documentary to challenge the notion that eventually kids have to pick one or the other. In the film, he talks a lot about what it is like to be a student-athlete in the NCAA, and Beisekeyev captures him as a student by showing him not only in class learning economics, but also in front of his computer late at night, poring over film from previous basketball games.

Aubakirov is currently back in Almaty waiting out social distancing, looking forward to the reopening of the high school gym where Beisekeyev captured him playing. This past season, Aubakirov averaged 6.2 points per game, including an impressive 17-point showing against Oberlin College in late January. An impressive sharpshooter, Aubakirov shot .374 from deep last season. He looks forward to being a major contributor to the Lords’ efforts next season.

The documentary is available with English subtitles on YouTube.

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