UNITERRUPTED’s The Carter Effect is a crowd pleaser directed by Hamilton, ON native Sean Menard. “I want people in Toronto to feel like it’s ours,” the director said of the film in his post-screening Q and A on Sunday to a packed house of enthusiastic viewers at TIFF.
In order to understand The Carter Effect, one must have a bit of historical context. The Toronto Raptors came in to existence as an expansion basketball team in 1995, along with the Vancouver Grizzlies, as NBA commissioner David Stern sought to expand the sport’s global reach to Canada. While the Grizzlies eventually folded and moved to Memphis in 2001, the Raptors remain. And the reason they remain, one might argue, can be traced back to Vince Carter, the film’s subject.
“Anytime there’s a huge movement,” said director Menard, “the most interesting part is how did it all start? And I think that my job as a storyteller is to go from the beginning.” The movement Menard is referring to, known as Vinsanity, swept the NBA world from 1998, Vince Carter’s rookie year, until he was traded by the Raptors to the New Jersey Nets in 2004.
During this time period, Vince Carter embraced his role as the first Toronto basketball superstar. He won NBA Rookie of the Year in 1999, and won the slam-dunk contest during the 2000 All Star weekend. Even when Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant were dominating the league for the Los Angeles Lakers, and the San Antonio Spurs were building a dynasty, Vince Carter was still the hottest commodity in the game, and one could almost ignore that he played for a team with no history of winning, entertainment value, or respectability. “Air Canada,” as Vince Carter was affectionately known, brought all this and more to the city of Toronto, and the country of Canada.
Global megastar, Toronto native, and lifelong Raptors fan Drake is one of the film’s executive producers. The hit making hip-hop entertainer, interviewed in the film, has served as Toronto’s biggest cheerleader on a global scale. The Carter Effect explores how the basketball player inspired Drake and so many others in Toronto to have pride in where they came from. One could argue that, without Carter, there is no Drake. And Drake has taken Toronto civic pride to the next level, putting the city in the global spotlight like never before.
“I understand that people think, ‘how is Drake inspired by Vince Carter even though Drake’s not a basketball player?’” said Menard, “But it’s the same thing with the way that Drake inspired me and a lot of other people…to see somebody come from your city and rise to a level… it just motivates you further… it makes it more real that things can be accomplished on a global scale.”
Toronto is used to being overlooked by the US sports media, especially when it comes to basketball, which plays the third wheel to the happy civic-attention marriage of Blue Jays and Maple Leafs. And it’s this underdog mentality that Vince Carter exploited starting in 1998. Many young Toronto basketball fans watching Vince Carter back then finally had someone to look up to who played for their city. The film features appearances from several current Toronto-born NBA players, including Tristan Thompson, Nick Stauskas, Kelly Olynyk, and Cory Joseph, who all cite Carter as the reason they pursued basketball. Anthony Bennett and Andrew Wiggins, the first picks in the 2013 and 2014 NBA drafts, respectively, are Toronto-born. “To be honest with you,” said Menard, “I think this story isn’t so much about a player but it’s about a city, and a country. I think one of the biggest characters in the film is Toronto.”
The Carter Effect was produced by Uninterrupted, the entertainment joint venture run by NBA legend Lebron James and his lifelong friend, Maverick Carter. The film shows a clip featuring James pausing from a post-game interview at the Air Canada Centre and acknowledging how incredible he thinks the fan base is. “I actually pitched it to a bunch of the Canadian networks and, not to name names, but one of the larger ones took a pass on it,” said Menard. “I thought because (the film) was so Toronto-centric and Canadian- friendly, I really thought it would live and die up here in Canada. Then I was obviously pretty surprised to hear that such a large American company would be interested in something like that.”
James and Maverick Carter worked with Menard on his previous film, Fight Mom, about MMA fighter Michelle Waterson. When Menard’s agent pitched several ideas to Uninterrupted, The Carter Effect stood out to them. While it’s a shame that Canadian companies passed on the story, the fact that James’ company was interested in the project is further proof that the world is looking to Toronto.
Former Raptors player and NBA Hall of Famer, and Vince Carter’s cousin, Tracy McGrady, is featured heavily in the film. He waxes nostalgic about his time playing in Toronto with Vince Carter, and how if he stayed, maybe the Raptors could have been something special. Yet, the film seems to focus too heavily on this “what if” moment. What if Vince Carter stayed in Toronto? What if Tracy McGrady stayed? Sure, the “what if” moments might be fun to explore, but the truth is the Raptors have never been better than they are today. Curiously, the film does not include current Raptors legends Demar Derozan and Kyle Lowry, who have helped usher in the most successful era in the Raptors’ young history.
The Carter Effect’s greatest strength is its heart-felt exploration of the relationship between Vince Carter and Toronto, and the film’s unabashed pride in Canada’s largest city. It’s an inspiring story for that reason, and one that every Torontonian should see.
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TIFF runs Sept. 7-17. Visit TIFF.net for more information.