Hoop Dreams (Steve James, 1994)
Following the High School path of two young African-American Basketball prospects from the surroundings of Chicago we discover more than just their dedication to their sport.
Arthur Agee and William Gates were fourteen years old when a part time recruiter approached them to participate in St-Joseph’s high school Basketball program. Since it was a private school they had to maintain their grades and pay a part of the full price of admission. William who got on the Varsity team got his studies paid by benefitors. Arthur was less talented and had much troubles keeping high grades. He had to be transfered to the Marshall public high school. Both teenagers had the dream to become NBA players and finally got money and means to help their lower class families. During the five years of their high school we witness how they live with their family and friends the difficulties and tremendous efforts one has to deal with when trying to catch their dreams.
As I got into this 171 minutes documentary, I knew almost nothing to Basketball and organized sports. In fact, the subject was not really something I was really interested about. But, as soon as I put the disc in the player I was hooked by the plot of those lives and how it is so much more than a film about Basketball. It is probably the greatest sports film of all time. And it is not a fiction. Hoops Dreams might be the best documentary I’ve ever seen and I include the films by Robert J. Flaherty. It is a tale about humans trying to reach a goal and doing all they can to reach it. Their struggles, obstacles, and problems are real and it helps us understand a reality that is far from mine.
Those families faced unemployement, drugs, separations, criminality, and injustice. It also shows that no matter how much you are talented at something you must work hard and give everything you have to try to make it. Nothing is free or given to you, and those two families represent a lot of homes in America. Hoop Dreams is more like a social study than a sports documentary. It is easy to understand why the late Roger Ebert named it the best film of the 1990’s.
After having shot 250 hours of footage, director Steve James, who was at first asked by PBS to make a short film about Basketball and how it is a core element of the life of young people in the high of the Michael Jordan and Isiah Thomas hype, tells the story of so many Americans that struggle so hard to try to reach for a better life and keep out of criminality, drugs, and welfare. James felt that there was so much to tell and got in return so many genuine moments and he managed to edit this film with mastery. The pace of the story and the subject are so well handled, the tone is also very respectful of the privacy of the families but also very introspective and helps us understand what they lived at those precise moments.
Finally, after admitting to myself that I had a negative preconception of this feature film, I must admit that I am more than pleased to have watched this tremendous masterpiece. By now, every documentary I will watch will be compared to Hoop Dreams to determine its value and rank amongst the films I’ve seen. This mark a standard of outstanding accomplishment.