(1999) The Basket portrays a time in American history during which prejudice forced communities to divide and where some citizens with courage stood up to what they saw as unjust. The story takes place during the First World War and focuses on the adoption of two orphaned German children in a small community in eastern Washington State. The children are adopted by the Emerys, a family that just lost their son in the war. The father is initially apprehensive of taking the children because of a fervent anti-German sentiment in the town.

Afraid of being ostracized, the Emerys essentially give up the raising of the orphans to the town’s schoolteacher Martin Conlon (Peter Coyote). Conlon educates the other students that the prejudice against these children is unfair, and gradually the town warms to their presence. He teaches these students through his love of opera and basketball, using both as metaphors for the world and the two new students.



  • Peter Coyote.........................Martin Conlon
  • Karen Allen.............................Bessie Emery
  • Elwon Bakly.................................Ben Emery
  • Joey Travolta...........................Charlie Cohn
  • Amber Willenborg..................Brigitta Brink
  • Robert Karl Burke....................Helmut Brink
  • Ellen Travolta......................................Agnes


  • Director......................................Rich Cowan
  • Screenplay............................Frank & Tessa Swoboda, Don Caron and Rich Cowan
  • Cinematography.........................Dan Heigh
  • Music..........................................Don Caron
  • Running time............................105 minutes
  • Premiered in May 1999




In this accomplished, ambitious, and great-looking film the same lessons are taught about tolerance and decency that have been learned from an array of children's literature...The Basket boasts a talented cast and excellent production values. Peter Coyote is convincing as the interesting new stranger in town, an honorable man who may have a dark secret...

Boxoffice Magazine:
"Director Rich Cowan gets bravura performances from cast and crew, aided in no small way by the gorgeous camera work of Don Heigh... The always interesting Peter Coyote is a new teacher in a one-roomed school in the rolling farmlands of Washington state."

Dallas Morning News:
"Mr. Coyote delivers a strong, understated performance."

Sacramento Bee:
"'The Basket' may be a sugar-cured family film, but it has a certain spunk to it as it quietly lectures on the senselessness of both war and prejudice... Peter Coyote, actor and activist, has been making movies for about 20 years now, but he's somehow remained ageless. If you compare the performance he gave 17 years ago as Mary Steenburgen's second husband in 'Cross Creek' - Martin Ritt's 1983 biopic of writer Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings - with the one he gives in his latest film, 'The Basket,' you'll see he hasn't changed. He may even be utilizing the same period wardrobe for the new movie. Maybe it's because his demeanor and appearance make it easy for Coyote to slip into the past. He's certainly the only contemporary actor who can get away with parting his hair in the middle."

Los Angeles Times:
"The Basket holds a jumble of things. There's the Great War. There's opera. There's forbidden love. And then there's this strange new game called basketball. It's a lot, yes, but by and large, The Basket carries it off." (Read interview with Coyote by Susan King)

Seattle Times:
"Peter Coyote is shrewdly cast as an inspirational schoolteacher and basketball coach."

San Francisco Chronicle:
"Peter Coyote has the plum role of a schoolteacher from Boston, who comes to this provincial backwater - a rural suburb of Spokane - bringing new ideas, new games and a new phonograph... Coyote is the best part of the show, bringing wisdom and authority to the role."

Film Critic Robert Blatzer:
Coyote is excellent in a role that could easily have been overplayed, bringing a charm and sophisticated bite to his Conlon."

The Spokesman's Review:
"Heigh has a way of making wheat stubble look like something out of an Andrew Wyeth painting... And Coyote and Allen are consummate actors, their one scene together being the film's high point."

Film Critic Steve Rhodes:
"Rich Cowan's 'The Basket" is a simple and poetic film whose magic comes from many sources, particularly two beautifully understated performances by Peter Coyote and Karen Allen."

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette:
"A couple of very pleasing performances and some truly wonderful cinematography. Karen Allen lends a surprising gravity to the film with her dignified yet completely natural portrayal of a conflicted housewife. Coyote manages to come across as a weary yet amiable rogue looking for redemption in the country’s backwater."

Peoria Journal Star:
"What's most amazing about 'The Basket' - more so than the virtual absence of ''offensive'' material - is how unabashedly innocent its tone is. The scenes in which Coyote narrates the opera are particularly affecting."

Wilmington Star -News:
"Coyote (the Keys Guy who chased our little alien pal in E.T.) delivers by far the most interesting performance in the movie."

Augusta Chronicle:
"Beautifully shot and featuring charming and understated performances by Peter Coyote and Karen Allen."



Click here for Production Notes:

Fall 1998:  Filming is being done in the Spokane, Washington area. North by Northwest Productions has six partners - Rich Cowan, Marc Dahlsrom, Dan Heigh, Dave Holcomb, Greg Rathvon and Dave Tanner. Up until now they have limited themselves to commercials and industrial productions. However, now they've laid out their mortgages on the line to turn this tale into a major motion picture. To accomplish this, they have risked $1.5 million.

Filming began in late September but Peter arrived on location October 4th for a two-week stay. He describes these filmmakers as "young, hip, ambitious and real gamblers" and believes "they've written an interesting script." The film is expected to be released to film festivals and possibly movie theaters.

Outside scenes were shot first, with only inside scenes left when the weather turned windy and dark clouds threatened. The cast and crew stayed in the Tri-Cities, with a base camp about a mile from the schoolhouse, which was carefully chosen by the director's father. He found that the Neff family had the perfect place - a white, wooden storage shed which was originally a schoolhouse. They left the exterior paint alone but added a porch, replaced the tin roof with wood shingles and painted part of the interior. Family, friends and historical societies provided the schoolhouse props except for the portrait of Woodrow Wilson, which was found in the building.

Fifty to 70 people were on set for 11 hours every day. Some were from Los Angeles, but most were from Washington and Idaho. Costuming was reminiscent of Little House on the Prairie. The boys' trousers were held up by suspenders. The girls wore skirts and blouses of calico fabric, covered by pinafores. Coyote's costumes include a gray suit, vest and suspenders.

Excerpts from Spokesman-Review, 5/30/99:
"Cowan and four other North By Northwest Productions staffers just finished a two-week trip to France's Cannes Film Festival, where they did their best to market The Basket for foreign distribution. And they had some success. While The Basket has yet to score a distribution deal in the United States, Cowan et al have managed to negotiate, so far, some nine or 10 international agreements - meaning that The Basket likely will be seen in such exotic locales as Turkey, Israel, Greece, Poland, etc.."

"The film was even shot locally, mostly near the small town of Lamont, Wash. (which is south of Sprague). A schoolhouse that figures prominently is north of Pasco, and other sequences were shot in downtown Spokane - including the film's climactic basketball game, which was played in the Masonic Temple."

"The Basket is set in 1918 in Waterville, Wash. Peter Coyote stars as Martin
Conlon, a schoolteacher who has brought from back East a couple of passions - one for opera, the other for a strange new game called basketball.  His story is contrasted with that of the Emery family, whose eldest son has returned from World War I missing both a leg and the will to live. No wonder the family matriarch (Karen Allen of Raiders of the Lost Ark fame) is caught between her moody husband and the young German boy and girl (Seattle actors Robert Karl Burke and Amber Willenborg) who have emigrated and now live with the town pastor."

"Conlon has trouble connecting with his new students, until he begins to tell them the story of an opera called The Basket.  It is a mythical piece, and it boasts an anti-war subtext. But all Mr. Emery can hear is the German language that the singers are using. It enrages him and other area residents.  To calm everyone down, and to help the town purchase a piece of farm machinery that it desperately needs, Martin proposes a basketball game - against the unbeaten Spokane Spartans. Farm boys must learn the finer points of a two-handed set shot while mastering the mechanics of what may be the first zone defense in history. And then there's the question: Will the German boy get his chance to play?""

"The final thing you need to know about Rich Cowan is this: He doesn't care if The Basket ever plays theatrically in this country. 'It's nice to hope for a theatrical release when you make movies at this budget level (Cowan estimates the film cost $3 million to date),' he says, 'but I don't think you should assume that. If you make five movies, I think one might pop and go theatrical. But you should always make the assumption that you're gonna have a television deal, on HBO or Showtime or something.'''

The Spokesman-Review, 8/8/99:
"On August 20, Spokane will host the first true commercial run of the locally made film, The Basket, the Karen Allen-Peter Coyote movie about a World War I-era teacher, who teaches his students about basketball and tolerance.  The film, made last last summer by North by Northwest Productions in Spokane, has already been screened at several film festivals, including Seattle and Cannes.  Yet thanks to the new River Park Square AMC theaters, The Basket will finally get a place in the 'plex.   It will open during the theaters' grand opening and continue for at least a week.   'After that, they will evaluate it like any other film,' said Rich Cowan, the producer and director.  If it does well, it may be picked up by other AMC theaters.   If not, 'we'll sell it to one of the networks as a TV movie,' said Cowan."

"The Basket is the story of a mysterious schoolteacher named Martin Conlon who comes to a small rural Washington town. While there, two German war orphans (WWI) arrive and cause tension since several people from that town have been wounded. Martin teaches the school kids the brand new game of basketball and challenges the team from Spokane. Along the way, we find out that Martin is an ex-gambler when an old partner (Joey Travolta) shows up, fresh from jail and demands his cut from an old job. The film is being made by a small, local advertising company called North by Northwest. In their own words, 'We already had the cameras, editing bays, trucks and all, why not?' They've made six films so far, five directed by Joey Travolta (John's brother), who is in this one playing my partner, as is John's sister Ellen, who plays the town gossip. They've lovely people, have all worked together for years, and the shooting goes quickly and pleasantly."   ...Peter Coyote


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