Exciting news for documentary fans from The New York Times: Director, Steve James; cinematographer-producer, Peter Gilbert; and producer, Frederick Marx are planning a follow-up to Hoop Dreams, their remarkable 1994 study of Chicago’s high school basketball scene. The follow-up documentary grew out of a planned extra for Criterion’s 10th anniversary DVD where the filmmakers would track how the film’s relase changed the lives of their subjects, Chicago hoops stars, William Gates and Arthur Agee, but the filmmakers realized that given the subject matter, a longer documentary was needed.
I’m very excited about this DVD (and the new documentary) because Hoop Dreams is such a landmark film for me. I remember being outraged when the film was excluded from an Academy Award nomination for best documentary, especially given the film’s treatment of such powerful subject matter–notably the intersections of social class and race, sports and spectacle.
Hoop Dreams is probably the first documentary I ever saw in the theater, and it’s certainly a film that conveyed to me the powerful effect that documentaries can have, though this might be a specific product of my specific viewing experience. For several weeks in 1994, when the film was in theaters, an Atlanta theater (Tower Cinema, I think) had six screens all showing art house movies, with tickets selling for $1 or less, depending on the whims of the owners. The result was that I saw the film twice with incredibly diverse audiences who were unruly in the best possible ways. The audience often cheered the basketball triumphs or audibly criticized the exploitative coaches. It was, in many ways, a great introduction to the power of documentary. And the documentary always left me wondering what happened to these two families who so openly shared their four difficult years of their lives with a national audience.
Both William and Arthur have endured family tragedy in recent years. William’s brother, Curtis, who was also a basketball star, was murdered three years ago, and in January of last year, Arthur’s father, Bo, was killed in an attempted robbery (I remember trying write a blog entry about Bo Agee’s death but never quite feeling satisfied with it). Interestingly, both William and Arthur, who are both 32 years old, have settled into careers off the basketball court, with William becoming a pastor and Arthur an “independent designer,” who designed the logo for a Hoop Dreams clothing line. William and Arthur were also able to renew their friendship via a commentary track for the Criterion DVD. At the risk of sounding a little too optomistic, I think this is one great example of the positive effects of the DVD medium on “smaller” projects such as Hoop Dreams, which grossed only $7.8 million in theaters (a huge payoff for documentaries, but small compared to a feature film).