An unforgettable masterpiece documentary chronicling two young boys growing up in inner-city America...
Hoop Dreams started out as an idea for a simple film project before it expanded into something grand and glorious. It was originally going to be a 30-minute documentary that would air on PBS, the American public television channel. Instead, the filmmakers gathered over five hours of footage and presented nearly three hours of it in a feature-length documentary film. It may not have been seen by much of the mainstream moviegoing audience when it hit theaters in 1994, but just about every critic praised the movie. In fact, film critics Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert later called Hoop Dreams the best film of 1994. To me, that's saying a whole lot.
I want to first mention how the film is just marvelous to look at. All of the footage is captured flawlessly so that watching the film is very like being in it. This effect is also achieved by arranging the footage in a seamless linear fashion, staying entirely in the present moment of the story without jumping to the past or future. Best of all, the cameras show everyone and everything close up, giving us a true and accurate glimpse into the lives of people whom we would not otherwise understand in great depth.
Hoop Dreams centers on two African-American boys in inner-city Chicago: William Gates and Arthur Agee. Their story in this film begins when they are 13 years old. Both love to play basketball in their free time, and both dream of becoming professional basketball players like their idol, Isiah Thomas. Their devotion to the game pays off when they are invited to attend St. Joseph High School, a private Catholic school, with a sports scholarship to cover their tuition. Things go well for a while until the school's tuition rate goes up. William's family has a way to compensate for that, but Arthur, whose family cannot pay extra, has no choice but to transfer to Marshall High School, a public school.
The two boys' paths may be separate from this point on, but they are parallel in their numerous similarities. This is the part of the movie where the subject matter clearly goes beyond the topic of pursuing one's dream in professional sports. Hoop Dreams is really about growing up in America. Not wealthy America, but poor America, which is representative of much of the nation. Both William and Arthur have to manage their basketball time with school work, family life, and even personal safety given local crime rates. Moments of setback may also occur, as when Arthur's father and mother lose their jobs. The father goes to jail for burglary and the mother applies for welfare, with financial constraints so dire that the electricity at home has to be shut off.
Even when there is sadness with the hardships of life, there is still the inspiration of a loving family. The parents of William and Arthur are very loving parents who want nothing but success for their sons. This feeling of hope continues when the film devotes its last third to the high school championship basketball games that these two boys compete in during their senior year of high school. Whenever these boys score a basket or win a game, their mothers and fathers are not afraid to express their joy. One can only hope that William and Arthur's hoop dreams finally come true.
Of course, that depends on one's perspective. Toward the end, I did wonder if William Games and Arthur Agee would be drafted by the NBA. Then I realized something else. The opportunity to play high school basketball and make a whole school proud is still a hoop dream in and of itself. Just doing what you love can be considered a dream come true. As the old saying goes, it's not the destination but the journey that is far more important. I was especially amazed by how much these boys have grown up over five years. I had no doubt that William and Arthur would find success in life, whether it's related to basketball or something else.
Hoop Dreams is a great film because it does a lot of things for the audience. It provides a visually engaging story that we can all relate to, and it teaches us life lessons that we should never forget. This is why Gene Siskel, Roger Ebert, and many other film critics gave it high marks. In my opinion, any compilation of great movies in general or great documentary films specifically should include Hoop Dreams in its list. Hoop Dreams is truly the kind of movie that should be preserved for all time.
For more information about Hoop Dreams, visit the Internet Movie Database.