Film Reviews

Review: ‘Hoop Dreams’

Hot Docs 2016

Courtesy of Hot Docs

Hoop Dreams
(USA, 179 min; 1994)
Dir. Steve James
Programme: Outstanding Achievement Award Retrospective

So many words have been spilled about Hoop Dreams that it may seem silly to discuss it further, but it’s even sillier not to celebrate the rich achievement of this masterwork. A doc first made famous by its exclusion from that year’s Oscar slate (and subsequently championed by Chicago’s own Siskel and Ebert), Steve James’ film has gone on to not only theatrical and commercial success but enshrinement in the pantheon of the world’s greatest non-fiction films.

Yet it’s sometimes easy to forget just what a bombshell of a film Hoop Dreams really is. Tracing a couple of young urban African-American basketball prospects, who share the goal of gaining fame by joining the NBA, the film follows their rough and tumble life, the challenges they overcome, their extraordinary talent and those who help foster it versus those intent on exploiting what they feel to be young men who will achieve future fortunes.

It’s a film that can be as thrilling as any game, its running time often whipping by like a nail-biting playoff match, while at other times, the subjects go through their ups and downs in much slower verité style. Capturing social drama along with extraordinary feats of athleticism, this penetrating work delves deeply into the lives of memorable, fascinating protagonists. There are few films with which one can feel more empathy, few that truly make one believe that a deep truth is being captured on screen. Hoop Dreams was declared a masterpiece early on, and decades later its prestige hasn’t diminished one bit.

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Hot Docs runs April 28 – May 8. Visit for more information.