Review: ‘Hoop Dreams’

Hot Docs 2016

2 mins read

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.


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


Jason Gorber is a film journalist and member of the Toronto Film Critics Association. He is the Managing Editor/Chief Critic at and a regular contributor for POV Magazine, and CBC Radio. His has written for Slashfilm, Esquire, The Toronto Star, The Globe and Mail, The National Post, Screen Anarchy, HighDefDigest, Birth.Movies.Death, IndieWire and more. He has appeared on CTV NewsChannel, CP24, and many other broadcasters. He has been a jury member at the Reykjavik International Film Festival, Calgary Underground Film Festival, RiverRun Film Festival, TIFF Canada's Top 10, Reel Asian and Fantasia's New Flesh Award. Jason has been a Tomatometer-approved critic for over 20 years.

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