mm— Law of
For thousands of young Americans. a basketball scholarship could be their ticket out of the inner—city ghettos. Alan Morrison reports on Hoop Dreams, a remarkable documentary that charts the journey of two boys through four years of high school towards their
Boxing. football. hockey. karate. basketball: the Hollywood sports film cliche is always the same. It's the final seconds of the championship decider. and our hero is up against his tnain rival. Will he win on that final punch. touchdown. goal. kick. throw‘.’ Of course he will. Totally unbelievable.
ln Hoop Dreams. when the pressure is on and the star player lines up for that all-important shot. it could go either way — sweetly into the basket or cruelly off the ring. Totally believable. This film does more than merely entertain the audience with a final reel adrenalin rush because. in H001) Dreams. basketball isn‘t simply basketball. Beyond the game lies a doorway to the future for the young players: each time they put on the team colours. they're shouldering the hopes and aspirations of their families. On and off the court. they‘re part of an American system that offers young black kids a helping hand out of the ghetto — but only if they can put the points on the board and make the grades in the classroom.
For four-and-a-half years. filmmakers Steve James. Fred Marx and Peter Gilbert followed William Gates
careers. Both boys cotne frorn poor backgrounds in Chicago. and both are recruited by the prestigious St Joseph‘s school. the same establishment that nurtured
. their basketball hero. Isiah Thomas. Perhaps because
we know that this is the real thing (but more likely because the filmmakers draw us directly into the
boys‘ lives by means of uninhibited interviews with fatnin members). we share their on-cotnt highs and . domestic lows. William settles into a promising
' career. with a wealthy sponsor paying part of his tuition. while Arthur is forced to leave the school as
‘li they risk tragedy by caring too much about basketball, it’s because the game is one of the precious few things they know of to achieve a better life.’ his unemployed parents owe hundreds of dollars in back payments. Later. William‘s college hopes are threatened by a lingering knee injury. but Arthur‘s unrated team goes on to win the city championship. ‘Tbe dream is about far more than the fantasy of playing in the NBA.‘ says director Steve James. ‘lt
Hoop Dreams: Arthur Agee prepares a penalty shot identity and real opportunities. If they risk tragedy by caring too rnucb about basketball. it’s because the game is one of the precious few things they know of to achieve a better life.‘
Here lies one of the film's most cotnpelling elements: can these teenagers cope when there is (at)
‘ Illll(‘/I at stake'.’ It‘s not easy for the flashy
neighbourhood individual to adapt immediately to the discipline of teamwork. but even if he does. isn’t
= there something unfeeling about a system that raises
hope with the promise of scholarships. then slams home the reality of additional tuition and book fees. causing untold pain in the process? What sets Hoop Dreams apart is that it simultaneously captures the viewers‘ emotions. through intertwining human stories. and their intellect. by playing these stories against a social backdrop of urban deprivation. broken homes and colleges greedy to increase their
own prestige. This is not just one of the best documentaries you're likely to see in a cinema. it is
one of the films of the year.
} Hoop Dreams ope/ts at the Edinburgh Cameo (m
and Arthur Agee through their entire high school
provides kids like William and Arthur with an
mur- Youth in Asia
Despite their unshakeable grip on the world’s arthouse cinemas, China’s Fifth Generation filmmakers are clearly at some sort of impasse. Back in the mid-803, films like Yellow Earth, lied Sorghum and Horse Thief offered an intoxicating mixture of lush visuals and hugely dramatic history, giving the West a first glimpse of a China emerging from the traumas of the Cultural Revolution and the breakdown of Maoism. Directors Chen Kaige, Zhang Yimou and Tian Zhuangzhuang gave international cinema exactly what it wanted, established an instantly classical style of cinema.
Beijing Bastards by Zhang Yuan and broke down the hitherto rigid doors of state censorship.
Since then, however, it’s been a somewhat different story. Chen, clearly the most intellectually
ambitious of the Fifth Generation, has managed a successful transition to the mainstream with Farewell My Concubine, at the price of diluting his work with a dash of Hong Kong commercialism; Zhang Yimou, the most glib, has produced ever more lightweight work while being acclaimed, along with leading lady Gong li, as China’s answer to Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson.
A new generation of directors - imported to this country by London’s institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA), stalwart observers of Far East cinema - has, on the other hand, reacted sharply against the self-conscioust global aspirations of their predecessors. Gratefully exploiting the freedoms that have been won, the Beijing Bastards (as the programmers
denote them) reject the historical fables of the older filmmakers, preferring in films like The Days, Mama and Red Beads to grapple with controversial issues and contemporary realities - care of the mentally handicapped, sexual obsession and other subjects rarely addressed in China even by the most radical. Whether they’ll achieve the same stellar success as the Fifth Generation is a moot point - but since they operate under similar rigorous control, you’ll certainly be assured of a session of committed filmmaking. (Andrew Pulver) The Beijing Bastards season (The Days, Mama, Beijing Bastards and lied Beads) begins at the Edinburgh Filmhouse on Fri 7 and at the Glasgow Film Theatre on Mon 10.
The List 7-20 Apr 1995 21