The producer of one of the most acclaimed films of all time reflects on a deeply personal work and its legacy.
“People always say to me, ‘when you get to the NBA, don’t forget about me’. Well, I should’ve said back, ‘if I don’t make it to the NBA, don’t you forget about me’.”—William Gates, Hoop Dreams
The ongoing celebrations surrounding the 50th anniversary of the New York Film Festival have been a boon to cinemagoers on America’s east coast. The Film Society of the Lincoln Center has begun screening highlights from the Festival’s first half-century, with works such as Jane Campion’s The Piano, Cristi Puiu’s The Death of Mr. Lazarescu and Manoel de Oliveira’s I’m Going Home getting all-too-rare big-screen showings in the lead up to the 2012 edition, which begins September 28.
One of the most anticipated events of the retrospective season will be the June 5 showing of Hoop Dreams, director Steve James’ 1994 documentary that followed William gates and Arthur Agee, two African-American basketball hopefuls as their lives took divergent and fascinating paths. The New York Times picked the 170-minute film as one of the 1000 greatest films of all time; it would be voted the greatest documentary of all time by the International Documentary Association.
Attending the event will be James and producers Peter Gilbert and Frederick Marx (pictured, right). Speaking to SCREEN-SPACE from the offices of his production company Warrior Films, Marx welcomes the opportunity to reflect upon a work that has touched millions. “In many ways it was the first of its kind. That combining of documentary methods with fiction strategies, of trying to combine verite documentary style with Hollywood story-telling structure and pacing,” he recalls, citing the interwoven dramatic flow of the story as being ground-breaking. “It is a longitudinal study combining dramatic sports action with sociological detail, stylistically different from talking heads and B-roll films like the UP series, which I deeply admire.”
Aside from the enormous critical acclaim (it has a 98% Rotten Tomatoes rating) and award season goodwill (it won Sundance and National Board of Review honours, amongst many others), Marx (pictured, left) most clearly recalls the impact the production had on the lives of Agee and Gates. “I remember returning from one interview with William and telling Steve we're doing William a great service by being there as confidantes,” he says, “just wanting to hear his truth and feelings as opposed to most people who were telling him what they thought he should do.” Both played some minor-league seasons but neither achieved NBL status. However both still provide inspiration for many - Gates as pastor at Living Faith Community Church in Chicago; Agee as a motivational speaker with his start-up initiative, ‘Hoop Dreams: Control Your Destiny Curriculum’.
Gates recently told basketball website Slam.com, ““It’s all about choices. That’s what I try to get across to my own kids and the kids we serve at my church. It’s about empowerment and choices. Instead of a basketball scholarship, get an academic scholarship. Broaden your horizons.” Frederick Marx agrees, bemoaning the fact that Hoop Dreams did not foster a greater degree of understanding and assistance for America’s inner-city youths in the long term. “Things are worse today,” he states, bluntly. “The socio-economic realities of many urban African-American families are far worse and the exploitation of athletes starts now in grammar school. They're rated in spec sheets like horses are, starting in 5th or 6th grade, at ages 10 to 12.”
Hoop Dreams screens June 5 at The Lincoln Center's Walter Reade Theatre at 6.30pm.