Monday, November 3, 2014

Hoop Dreams: 20th Anniversary

What initially was thought to become a half-hour PBS documentary about a basketball court in a deprived area of Chicago, ended up portraying two teenage basketball players and their goal to make it to the NBA and college, with a running time close to 3 hours. Regarded as one of the best American films in the 90's, Hoop Dreams now celebrates it's 20th anniversary. Dazed met up with director Steve James to talk about the movie:

Why did you decide to go beyond your original half-hour premise?

Steve James: The germ of the idea of following them over time came fairly early on, when Pingatore said to Arthur and his family that if he came to St Joe's and worked hard at the grades and basketball he'd help him get into college. We thought it was such an extraordinary promise for this man to make to a kid he'd literally just met and seen play briefly. That led to us thinking it would be interesting to see what happens to a kid like this in four years. The way we presented it to the families was we would maybe check in once a month and see what was going on. That didn't sound too demanding to them or us. For the first two years we shot a total of about 25 days, but then we became more obsessed as the story was evolving. By the end we shot a total of 100 days just during their senior year and its aftermath. If you watch the film you see the detail and complexities grow as the years pass, and that was due to a growing feeling that there was so much going on in these stories apart from basketball that we needed to capture as it was unfolding.


In the film William and Arthur both dream of making it into the NBA, but at a certain point their focus shifts towards the more tangible goal of getting into college. How did you feel about their changing desires?

Steve James: I think that's something that's sometimes lost on people who like to say, with good intentions, “How can these kids possibly put so much faith in this basketball dream when the odds of making it to the NBA are so minuscule?” Yes, the odds are minuscule, but for the opportunity to get to college and possibly to even get a full or partial scholarship, those odds are far, far better. When kids like Arthur and William look around their neighbourhoods they don't see doctors and lawyers and other professionals. They see guys who have been able to use sports to get out and go to college or get a job because they were a star, even locally, so that becomes a much more realistic dream to them. The tragedy of it all speaks to a larger tragedy, but you can't fault them for seizing on something like basketball as a method of escape.

Watch full movie on Vimeo or SnagFilms.

Featured image: The original movie poster via

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