Behind the scenes of "Off the Rez"

In "Off the Rez," Shoni Schimmel dreams of being the first from her tribe to get a college scholarship. Tribeca Film Festival

The first thing that drew Jonathan Hock's attention to Shoni Schimmel was simply her skills. One of the top high school basketball players in the country, Schimmel's on-court dominance was enough to turn the head of any sports fan.

But as Hock grew closer to the Native American teenager's story, he found a far more meaningful narrative.

"It was the idea that her mom, Ceci Moses, was taking the family away from home to show them that their lives and their destiny were not confined to the limits of the Reservation," Hock said. "She was willing to put them out there in an environment that hoped they would not succeed, to lay it all on the line for her kids. As a message from a mom to her kids, that was a beautiful thing to watch unfold."

On one level, Hock's film follows the Schimmel-Moses family from an Indian Reservation in western Oregon to Portland, where Ceci coaches Shoni's Franklin High hoops team. For Shoni and her seven brothers and sisters, Cici becomes a pioneering figure, somebody willing to do what it takes to show her family what life is like "off the Rez."

And as her high school career moves on, Shoni begins to realize that her opportunity to earn a college scholarship has also turned her into a role model for thousands.

"She was aware that she's doing this not just for herself, but for her people," Hock said. "The stats on the Rez are horrible. There's hopelessness. There's a sense you never fulfill your destiny. She knew that people all over the country were counting on her to do this. That's an awfully big weight for a 16 or 17-year-old girl."

Hock went out to Oregon expecting to find the Rez similar to America's underprivileged urban areas, where sports are often tickets out. But he found that the Rez is much harder to leave.

"In the 'hood, the idea of using sports as spring board to get out is embraced," Hocke said. "If you leave, it's accepted. That's not true on the Rez. You don't leave. The pull to stay home is much stronger and deeper than I expected. The whole idea of her getting ready to leave is unimaginable to her."

Her status as a role model for Native Americans everywhere and the pull of the Rez weigh on Shoni as she struggles with her college decisions. It's that conflict that frames Hock's film and creates a ground-breaking teenaged superstar.

"She's one part Peter Maravich and one part Jackie Robinson," Hock said.