Despite the chanting soundtrack, the communal sweat lodges and the mystical Steadicam skimming over grasslands, “Chiefs,” a docu about a high school basketball team on the Wind River Indian reservation in Wyoming, seems awfully familiar. Replace “the rez” with “the hood,” the rundown shacks with rundown brownstones, the shots of desolate hills and mesas with desolate urban streets, and the tired template becomes clear: For kids trapped in a ghetto, it seems, even a rural ghetto, basketball is the only way out. “Chiefs” has a weary, dignified sadness that interacts in an odd but effective way with its victory-oriented sports saga. Solidly if somewhat stolidly put together, pic’s prospects outside public TV and docu fests are limited by its conflicted dual focus, but taking home best documentary film award at the Tribeca Film Festival can’t hurt.
Docu follows team through two would-be championship seasons, focusing on a handful of Arapaho and Shoshone players and their backstories. Continuing dramas of first-season stars Beaver C’Bearing and Brian Soundingsides who, lost and conflicted, can’t seem to find a way of living off the rez or a reason to stay, are intertwined with tales of second-season players Tim Robinson and Gerry Redman, who have a better grasp of their options. End captions, updating characters’ whereabouts, strike a cautious note of hope.