In January 1994, a group of filmmakers from Chicago went to the Sundance Film Festival to accomplish the impossible, by selling a three-hour documentary about two inner-city teens hoping to get to the NBA. By the time they left, their lives had changed, and so had the way non-fiction filmmaking is perceived.
Basketball fanatics Steve James, Frederick Marx, and Peter Gilbert originally set out to make Hoop Dreams as a half-hour doc for PBS that would focus on the culture surrounding streetball. But as quickly as they got on the blacktop, they left it. The dreams of their subjects, Arthur Agee and William Gates, were too grand for just the playground, and instantly, the filmmakers were immersed in the young men’s lives, showcasing both the good and bad.
Twenty years after the film premièred at Sundance and was awarded the festival’s Audience Award, it’s grown into an iconic work. Its snub in the Best Documentary category at the 67th Academy Awards in 1995 led to changes in the voting process. NBA players treat the movie as their own life story. It’s been added to the Library Of Congress’ National Film Registry. And when looking back on the film’s 15th anniversary, Roger Ebert declared it “the great American documentary.”
Leading up to Hoop Dreams’ screening in a newly restored print at this year’s Sundance as part of the “From The Collection” program, The Dissolve talked to the filmmakers, subjects, and those in the industry who helped make a 30-minute PBS piece into a landmark film. (These interviews have been edited and condensed.)
- Chapter 1: An idea born on the court
- Chapter 2: Finding the story (and the money)
- Chapter 3: "Higher Goals" & growing frustrations
- Chapter 4: Connecting with the boys
- Chapter 5: Jackpot
- Chapter 6: Diving into post
- Chapter 7: Discovering the film's true potential
- Chapter 8: Park City-bound
- Chapter 9: Making deals
- Chapter 10: The film hits theaters
- Chapter 11: Snubbed
- Chapter 12: A blessing and a curse