Blog Directory CineVerse: Still scoring 20 years later

Still scoring 20 years later

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Twenty years since its original theatrical release, "Hoop Dreams" still packs an emotional wallop, as evidenced by its impact on our CineVerse audience last evening. Here are some of the observations our group shared about this amazing fiilm:

·       It’s much longer than most documentaries (ones made for television are usually around an hour; those made for theatrical release often clock in at around 90 minutes), yet, to many, doesn’t feel too long; in fact, many wish it were longer due to its absorbing, fascinating subject matter and personalities.
·       It employs a cinema verite style; cinema verite, according to Wikipedia, “combines improvisation with the use of the camera to unveil truth or highlight subjects hidden behind crude reality.”
o   With this approach, the filmmakers are almost always invisible (although you’ll hear the director’s voice ask a subject a question occasionally) and don’t appear to shape/color/comment on what we see; of course, there is no such thing as a truly objective lens, and shot/editing choices made by the filmmakers create a biased interpretation, even if unintentional.
o   By remaining out of sight and not trying to color our perceptions, the filmmakers let us reach our own conclusions about things.
o   Consider, too, that the filmmakers didn’t know quite what they were going to get when they started filming; over the course of five years, the movie took shape based on the experiences and fortunes of William and Arthur; in other words, the filmmakers didn’t try to manipulate, shoehorn or package this concept. They simply captured, like a fly on the wall, what they saw.
o   As director Steve James said in an interview: “I want to get to a place where I can capture people’s lives in an honest way, through demystifying the whole process, through having them be comfortable with the camera…instead of trying to disappear.”
·       It follows the lives of these two kids and their families over 5 years (using over 250 hours of footage), tracing their growth, triumphs and disappointments; rarely are we afforded such a privileged view of one or two subjects over such a long period of time.
·       It’s less about basketball and more about the realities of struggling and striving in the inner city, the transition from childhood to young adulthood, and life for underprivileged people in the United States.
·       It doesn’t try to utilize flashy camera moves, snazzy graphics or animations, or edgy editing techniques to tell its story; it tells a linear story, and lets its subjects speak for themselves and tell their own stories.
·       It doesn’t attempt to introduce, showcase or explain every major event in William and Arthur’s lives; for example, we suddenly see that William has a girlfriend and a baby; they aren’t introduced earlier.
·       Nevertheless, the filmmakers seem to be present to capture everything of importance, even the small moments that turn out to be important later. This speaks to the diligence and commitment of the filmmakers to constantly film and be available.
·       As essayist John Edgar Wideman said in his Criterion Collection essay on the film: “Editing, mediation are inevitable when constructing a narrative drawn from hundreds of hours of tape. The final cut of Hoop Dreams, however, seems not based on assumptions the filmmakers formed before they encountered the actual lives of their subjects but a story that evolved naturally as footage accumulated. A sense of gradual, dramatic revelation, of complicity in lives unpredictably unfolding, is achieved, in spite not because of the camera’s intervention.”

·       It was one of the first feature-length films shot completely on video, which created a fresh, cost-effective formula for producing non-fiction movies.
·       After the film didn’t get an Oscar nomination for Best Documentary of 1994, the controversy of this oversight led to the eventual formation of the Academy’s special Documentary Branch; this branch is much more experienced and suitable for judging documentaries.
·       Hoop Dreams was voted the greatest documentary of all time in a 2007 poll by the International Documentary Association, and ranked the 17th greatest doc of all time by Sight & Sound magazine.
·       The film was named to the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry, underscoring its importance to the history of American cinema.
·       By grossing $8 million at the box office, this movie proved that documentary films can be commercially successful and worth pursuing.

·       Prefontaine
·       Stevie (documentary)
·       30 for 30 episode “No Crossover: The Trial of Allen Iverson”
·       The Interruptors (documentary about Chicago homicides)
·       Head Games (doc about sports-related head injuries)
·       Life Itself (forthcoming doc about Roger Ebert)

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