Bees Doc to Premiere at Hamptons Film Fest

Basketball was the lens through which they were able to examine such issues as race, income inequality, gentrification, the criminal justice system, politics, education, and a seasonal economy
Carl Johnson, who recently retired as Bridgehampton High School’s boys basketball coach, is at the center of the film, the Cummings brothers have said. Craig Macnaughton Photos

Orson and Ben Cummings were happy to announce this week that their documentary on Bridgehampton High School’s storied Killer Bees boys basketball team, which has nine state championships to its credit, is to premiere at the Hamptons International Film Festival in October.

In discussing the film with this writer last winter, the brothers, former Bridgehampton students themselves, said basketball was the lens through which they were able to examine such issues as race, income inequality, gentrification, the criminal justice system, politics, education, and a seasonal economy. 

“We grew up in this world and we knew it well,” Ben said. “And while the time frame is limited to basketball, the film [one of whose associate producers is Shaquille O’Neal] covers pretty much everything that’s going on out here.”

Asked if people, say, from California would like it, Orson said, “Oh yes. The storyline is basketball, which is popular all over the world, and some of the themes the film addresses, like income inequality, can be related to a lot of places. . . . It’s a movie from New York, and everybody cares about New York. The little engine that could — everybody likes to hear about that.”

Carl Johnson, the recently retired Killer Bees coach, the only one in New York State to have won three championships as a coach and three as a player, is at the center of the film. Were it not for a shotgun injury in his senior year that had dealt a severe blow to his hoop dreams, “he wouldn’t have become a coach,” said Ben.

The brothers interviewed Julian Johnson — an outstanding player with whom they used to shoot hoops in their backyard on Narrow Lane and at the Bridgehampton Day Care Center, where once and future Killer Bees honed their skills — at the Elmira state penitentiary, to which he’d been sentenced as the result of a minor drug charge.

There is footage too of Deborah Kooperstein, a Family Court judge “and a big fan of the Bees,” addressing the criminal justice system’s inequities.

While the Cummingses were unable to interview either of the late Killer Bee coaches, Roger Golden — who implemented the ball-hawking, run-and-gun Killer Bee style of play — and his successor, John Niles, “John’s son Joe was super helpful,” said Orson. “His archives are the crown jewels of the film. Joe had it all. We’ve got great footage of Pujack [Carl Johnson] playing back in the day . . . of him, Wayne Hopson, and Louis and Sam O’Neal playing in a big venue, looking like the Knicks . . . we’ve got footage of championship games of the past. . . .”

“We’re thrilled to be premiering the film in the 25th anniversary of the Hamptons Film Festival,” Orson said. “It’s the ideal place for us to show, considering the subject matter and the hunger in the community to see the film. The festival has been extremely supportive since we started the project.”

“We’ve had a few small ‘behind the hedgerow’ screenings to raise funds,” he continued, “and we’re very happy with how the film is playing. We continue to learn that this story is one that people are excited to hear — how the Bees have accomplished so much over the years. . . . It’s interesting how many people who come from the city know nothing about it. When they learn about the team, the history of the community, and all the wild social and economic diversity in Bridgehampton, they seem stunned. So, we’re happy to get it out there.”

“Viewers have also seen the story as representative of larger issues going on in the country involving race and income inequality — and, of course, a love of basketball — so we’re optimistic about it finding an audience outside the Hamptons as well. We also have heard that the festival board is working to make 100 tickets available to the kids at the Bridgehampton School, which is terrific.”