Experiencing Perry Reese, Jr. through the lens’ eye

Experiencing Perry Reese, Jr. through the lens’ eye

Image Credit: Dave Mast

Dan Mizicko never met Perry Reese, Jr. He has only seen him through the eye of his camera lens. Even then it has been through the stories shared by other people.

Even so, that experience has brought the life of a Black, Catholic basketball coach amid a White, Mennonite community into crystal clear focus.

Perry Reese, Jr. touched the lives of many people during his time teaching, coaching and living among the people of East Holmes.

More than two decades after his passing, he continues to make an impact.

Director and film producer Jay Maximo is currently directing a Perry Reese, Jr. documentary and presented an 11-minute preview recently at the home of Art and Jo Yoder, where those involved in the project were invited to view the preview and share memories of Reese.

While Maximo is directing, the man behind the lens is videographer Mizicko, who has had the blessing of filming countless friends and family of Reese. Through the experience he has grown to admire and respect a man he never met but still made an impact on his life.

“Once I get into a project, I always get excited, but this one is something special,” Mizicko said. “We’re going through all of these interviews with all of these people who are so passionate about who Perry was and what he meant to them, and I am like, ‘Man, I wish I could have met this guy.’ I feel like he had the same kind of mindset as my dad had before he passed away as well. I feel like Perry could have made a huge impact on my life, just like he did on so many other people’s lives.”

Mizicko and Maximo met when the latter was the former’s boss at a sports company in Cleveland. Maximo actually was a roommate with Mizicko’s cousin while attending college at the Ohio State University, and he was in Maximo’s ear about his cousin’s work with film.

When Maximo moved back to Cleveland from Los Angeles several years ago, he contacted Mizicko about a project he had in mind.

“I’ve had a camera in my hands since I was little, filming backyard antics around the house and anywhere I could,” Mizicko said. “It’s a passion.”

While the 11-minute preview is now on film, the two men have much more to do before fashioning a full-length film Maximo hopes will make a huge impact on people once the finished product finds a market.

Mizicko said he isn’t sure how many hours of film the two have waded through in creating the film thus far, but he did say he recently transferred 14,000 gigabytes of data, and they are far from finished filming.

“So far we’ve probably captured around 150 hours of footage, not including all of the archival stuff,” Mizicko said.

Sifting through all of the footage and narrowing down what they wanted to include in the film hasn’t been easy because Mizicko said they have such an immense amount of quality footage they’d love to keep in the film.

He said filming interviewees and hearing and seeing it played back afterward is very different. He said there are so many tactical and technical tasks that take place when filming that it is sometimes difficult to comprehend the messages being conveyed.

“You try to pay attention to what people are saying, but there is so much to do on the technical side you sometimes miss a lot,” Mizicko said.

He said it isn’t until he and Maximo go back through the footage and he gets a chance to truly hear what is being said that he gets a chance to really understand the message being promoted. The message he heard on second viewing was one of love, compassion and servanthood from a man who always put other people before himself.

“I’m moved by the stories,” Mizicko said. “I feel like I know him, and it’s difficult to sometimes hear the words people say and take them to heart when I’m filming. When I finally got to actually hear what people were saying after we started going through each interview again, it really struck me how much people loved Perry. It’s inspiring.”

Having done all short-form content thus far in his career, Mizicko said he believes this project will open doors for both he and Maximo that will move them closer to their ultimate goal of movie-making.

“This has been a huge amount of work so far, but it has been an amazing experience,” Mizicko said of the Reese documentary. “We worked together 10 years ago, and Jay never mentioned the idea he had until two years ago during the pandemic. The story just hit all the right buttons, and my eyes lit up when the opportunity came about.

“It’s been like one big history lesson for me, and the more people we film and interview, the more excited I get, not just about our project, but about who Perry was as a person, and he obviously meant a great deal to and made a major impact on a lot of people. I am so proud of this film and what it represents, and I want everyone to see it because it contains an incredible message for all of us.”