The beauty of a documentary lies in its mission to capture a moment in time. A piece of someone’s life, a chance to know the world from a different perspective. Documentaries allow us to travel back, to times and places otherwise unreachable.
Steve James’ Hoop Dreams achieves these goals. As we are introduced to its two young subjects, William Gates and Arthur Agee, it becomes an intimate invitation into their lives. Gates and Agee had just been recruited to join the student basketball league at St. Joseph High School in Westchester, Illinois. We follow them both through their respective lives, as they are driven through high school by the dream of professional NBA status.
Hoop Dreams was originally a 30-minute television special, but creators became so invested in the plights of Gates and Agee, they continued to document them for a total of four years.The result is over 250 hours of footage. Unable to push the film to this enormous length, the final 170-minute runtime is still quite magnificent, filled with fragments of life painted in hard, unfiltered truth. Aside from the journey of Gates and Agee, the documentary focuses on the prevalent battles of race, youth and class division. The film touches subtly on these issues, without coming across as pushy.
While the first half of the film focuses on ambition and the fleeting nature of youth, the latter half sees Gates and Agee undergo the more painful realities of life. By the conclusion, they have entered an arena far larger than themselves, filled with their dreams for the future.