Last Thursday evening 280 squash fans enjoyed the Philadelphia premiere screening of the new documentary Keep Eye on Ball: The Hashim Khan Story, followed by a Q&A with producer Beth Rasin. As if that wasn’t enough, there was also a book signing with Trinity College squash coach Paul Assaiante and James Zug, the author of Run to the Roar: Coaching to Overcome Fear, at a reception sponsored by Trinity's alumni club before the film.
Keep Eye on Ball producer Beth Rasin and Run to the Roar author James Zug pose together before the screening.
I had the chance to chat with Beth while the film played. A master of many trades, Beth has worked for organizations including Women’s World Cup Soccer and the US Olympic Committee. She is the Associate Director of the J.P. Morgan Tournament of Champions, the largest professional squash event in North America, and she managed the US Women’s National Squash Team for ten years. Currently, Beth is the Executive Director of PowerPlay NYC, Inc., a non-profit providing sports and life skills training for girls in underserved communities.
Here are some highlights from our conversation and the Q&A:
How did you get involved with the film?
I met Josh [Easdon, the director] in 2005. I was the Associate Director of the Tournament of Champions, which is like a who’s who in the international squash world. I helped him set up three days of interviews with the great players in the sport… Josh said that he didn’t know how to do fundraising, and I said, “I’ve done a lot, let’s talk.” We had coffee and I shared some ideas. He asked me if I wanted to be the producer. It was supposed to be a year-and-a-half long project. Six years later…
How did the project get started?
Josh is a squash-teaching pro who developed an interest in filmmaking fifteen years ago and got a Masters in Media Studies from the New School. He initially wanted to do a documentary about the history of squash, but Josh soon realized if he captured Hashim’s story, he would also capture the history of squash.
Hashim’s father was a butler at the British Officer’s club in Peshawar. He went to the club with his dad as a child. Later he became a ball boy there and developed an affinity for the game. In 1951 he was invited to play in the British Open, four years after the partition of India and Pakistan. No one had ever heard of Pakistan before. He gave Pakistan an identity around the world. He really was their first national hero! Even more impressive, he was already 37 at the time of his first British Open—long after most athletes are past their prime—and he won the next six years.
Squash champion Hashim Khan (right) shakes hands with M.A. Karim after winning his first British Open in 1951.
In the course of filming the documentary, you travelled to Pakistan with Hashim, then 92 years old. How were you received? What did you learn?Thank you, Beth!
Most people expressed gratitude to us for making this film about their hero. The Department of State had issued travel warnings about Pakistan, so we weren’t sure what we’d run into, but we never encountered any anti-American sentiment.
I consider myself an educated person, but after we arrived in Pakistan, I realized that I didn’t know very much about the culture of that part of the world. I also didn’t know anything about Islam. As we progressed in making the film, the ability to explore these things was really interesting. Hashim’s story is quite compelling, and by telling it, I hope that we shed some light, beyond most of our current media sound bites, about that part of the world and also about what it means to be a Muslim; it’s not really that different from Christianity or Judaism.
The Pakistani people, and especially the Pashtuns (the tribe from which Hashim is descended), have an incredibly strong tradition of hospitality; they feel duty bound to provide hospitality and protection as long as you show them respect. Pakistan is one of the “poorer” countries I’ve travelled to, but they have this great sense of community and contentment in their lives. It was an eye-opening, life-changing journey. It reinforced for me that all of us have more in common as human beings than anything that divides us.
Did you run into any issues travelling as the only woman on the filmmaking team?
We went to a lunch honoring Hashim and I was the only woman in the room. Everyone who got up to spoke acknowledged my presence by starting off, “Gentlemen and lady…” I got an understanding of a different part of the world, but there was a lot of mutual respect.
Also, as a woman, I was the only one from the film who could meet Hashim’s eldest daughter and her eldest daughters. They follow a very conservative tradition and won’t meet men outside of the family.
What attracts you to sports?
Sports offers the opportunity to transcend the artificial boundaries that separate us: language, nationalities. And sports can also inspire us – when we watch athletes dig deep to perform at their very best we can be inspired to do that in our own lives.
I also just love being physically active. I’ve played a lot of sports—almost every sport under the sun—and nothing compares to squash. It is such a great combination of the physical and the mental—you have to do a lot of running and at the same time, a lot of thinking, because there are so many angles and different shots to hit. Even though squash is played in more countries around the world than any other sport, except soccer, the squash community is also very connected—as evidenced by the huge turnout for the film.
Would you produce another film?
Absolutely. After I’ve gotten a little sleep.
If you missed this screening of Keep Eye on Ball or would like to watch it again, you can order a DVD here.