April 17, San Francisco: There was a point in my life where I began to realize that documentary filmmaking could reflect our world back to us in a much more powerful way than what we call “news” or “journalism”. Hoop Dreams was key touchstone along that path. It tells the stories of two Chicago kids, Arthur Agee and William Gates, with raw basketball talent and a dream to play pro. We meet Arthur and William on their way into freshman year of high school and we follow them through to college. There are many stories about race and privilege in America, many stories about promise and disappointment, but the two plus hours of Hoop Dreams manages to weave all of this together through two characters who are completely real and completely flawed and completely relatable.
It sounds silly to me at this age to be making such a strong point for the importance of documentaries as a journalistic format. But there was a time, prior to watching movies like this one, that I didn’t understand that. I didn’t get how deeply textured a story you could tell without ever directly dealing with any of the underlying issues. There is no expert who appears on camera in Hoop Dreams to describe the economic plight of working class African American families in Chicago. But the filmmakers are there the night that the power gets turned off in the Agees’ house. There’s no deep debate on teenage fatherhood, but William and his girlfriend have a baby before he graduates and that is just a part of the story from that point on.
And through it all, you love these kids. You root for them like crazy (even me, rooting, and I don’t watch any of the sportball). It’s documentary as complex, emotional journalism and as a truly honest story that’s reflective of a whole swath of the American experience.
(None of that is captured in this totally weird trailer.)
Buy, watch, and love this movie.