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For ‘Hoop Dreams’ director Steve James, reinventing an industry by defying it

The Washington Post

By Steven Zeitchik

January 25, 2018


PARK CITY, Utah — Chicago moviemaker Steve James has always stayed ahead of the documentary-film industry.

Maybe too far ahead.

James brought a then-unheard-of narrative sensibility to his 1994 basketball documentary “Hoop Dreams.” He embedded dangerously in the lives of anti-gang activists in his 2011 investigation “The Interrupters.” And he turned a documentary about a film critic into a meditation on religion, sex, parenthood and cinema with his 2014 Roger Ebert examination “Life, Itself.”

For all those efforts, a mainstream establishment has written him off. James didn’t earn an Oscar nomination for any of these films. Financiers didn’t even want to fund “Hoop Dreams,” writing it off as too slick.

“I think ‘ahead of my time’ is too strong,” James said wryly in an interview at the Sundance Film Festival this week. “Trying to take a different approach? Read more