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Criterion Has 'Hoop Dreams'

11 May, 2005 By: Erik Gruenwedel

The Criterion Collection yesterday brought the landmark 1994 documentary to DVD for the first time at $29.95.

The lauded doc chronicles the professional basketball dreams and urban realities of black teens Arthur Agee and William Gates.

Filmed over a five-year period, the film cost $700,000 to make, but grossed $7.8 million at the box office and won numerous critics' awards, including a best editing nomination at the 1995 Academy Awards.

Hoop Dreams, however, is about more than basketball, offering a sobering look at urban life, stereotypes and the often-mixed message that is the American Dream.

While the film was originally intended as a look into the role basketball plays in the black community, commentary shot last October with Gates and Agee underscored the relatively little significance the game actually has had on their lives and their families' (eight kids between the two of them) inner-city Chicago community.

“There are scenes in the commentary track that evoke what Hoop Dreams meant to [Gates and Agee], what it was like to be approached by three white guys who wanted to do a film about them and where they have taken the entire experience,” said Abbey Lustgarten, producer on the DVD. “Everybody thinks they made a lot of money and are living the high life, and that is not really the case.”

Lustgarten noted Agee in his commentary said making it in sports was not his calling, it was something bigger and “I just don't know what it is yet.”

It is those snapshots into American culture that Criterion hoped to capture through extensive bonus material, including a music video, a theatrical trailer, the commentaries and a behind-the-scenes primer on making and funding a documentary from the filmmakers.

Additional liner notes in the DVD case feature articles written about the film and its subjects by Alexander Wolff, senior writer at Sports Illustrated; John Edgar Wideman, professor of Africana studies and English at Brown University; and Michael Wise in a July 5, 2004 Washington Post retrospective on the film's key players.

“We wanted to create a DVD that would appeal to the masses the way the [theatrical] film did,” Lustgarten said. “We didn't just want to appeal to the sports community, black community or documentary community.”

Work on bonus materials for the DVD helped inspire a theatrical sequel that should come out sometime next year, Lustgarten said. In fact, some of the footage shot for the DVD will be included in the theatrical release.

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