Sunday Shorts: “Inspired” (2015, dir. Maggie Kaszuba)

Theatrical Poster for INSPIRED (2015) - image source: Timothy J. Cox

Theatrical Poster for INSPIRED (2015) – image source: Timothy J. Cox

The title “Inspired” has more than one meaning for this short indie film. On the level of its story, it’s about how a tough but fair high school basketball coach, Coach Stafford (Ariane M. Reinhart), inspires Sam (Tyler Kipp), one of her players. The path to inspiration is rocky for the troubled but talented Sam, who’s trapped in a struggle to understand the way life works. By the story’s bittersweet ending, she has discovered life’s fragility and gained direction and resolve.

On the level of the making of “Inspired,” writer-director Maggie Kaszuba chose to make this movie for her senior thesis at Fairleigh Dickinson University out of inspiration drawn from personal experience. Kaszuba based her screenplay on the story of Kathy Snyder, a girls’ basketball and field hockey coach at Southern Regional High School (Kaszuba’s alma mater), located in the Manahawkin section of Stafford Township in Ocean County, New Jersey.

The film goes beyond the standard inspirational sports film template by including a subtext about adolescent depression. Kaszuba and her DP, Dan Quiyu, handle this topic visually with a balance of tact and empathy. The musical score supports the mood of this and other themes. From the production standpoint, there are also some fairly elaborate scenes (such as a high school basketball game) that Kaszuba and her filmmaking team handle well.

Although the film’s twenty-minute runtime is not long enough to chronicle character development in as much depth as a feature presentation would, “Inspired” succeeds at convincing the viewer of the reality of its story. A large portion of the credit for this achievement goes to the principal cast. Seen from Sam’s point-of-view early in the film, Coach Stafford seems unsympathetic and even cruel. To adults, Sam seems to be a well-meaning but somewhat irresponsible teen. Through their performances, Reinhart and Kipp reveal their characters’ depth, both through their interactions and in scenes in which the other character is not present, as the film reveals their backstories. As Assistant Coach Bohn, Chris Viemeister provides a sympathetic foil who buffers their interactions.

Financed through a Kickstarter campaign in late 2014, “Inspired” premiered on May 5th, 2015, at FDU’s Senior Thesis Night at the AMC Theatre in East Hanover, NJ. Since then, it has played at Southern Regional High and several film festivals. Most recently, it took the Best Student Film award at the 2015 Shawna Shea Film Festival in Boston.

Follow “Inspired” on Facebook to find out where and when you can see Kaszuba’s outstanding directorial debut.