Steve James, director of the film, Hoop Dreams, spent four years filming the life of Stevie Fielding, a young man with a long and disturbing history of physical abuse, sexual abuse, learning difficulties and abandonment. The film is a reunion of sorts, chronicling how the director and Stevie get to know one another and each other's families after years have passed. Since they first met, Stevie seems to have turned from a troubled kid into a violent, cynical, debilitated young man and during the course of the film, Stevie is brought to trial for perpetrating child abuse. When the director Steve James was at Southern Illinois University, he was in the Big Brother-Little Brother programme: Stevie Fielding was his Little Brother.


This is a powerful documentary about interactions and connections between people who are so often presented as worlds apart. On one level, we see members of an educated urban family reuniting with inhabitants of a world that is often presented on film only through the crudest caricatures of "redneck trailer-park trash". On another level, it is about the responsibility we have to one another through the connections we have made, even under the most strained of circumstances.

Unlike Capturing the Friedmans (2003), where the documentary casts doubt over the accusations of sexual abuse at the heart of the film, there is no equivocation about Stevie's actions here. The sympathy one might feel for him comes not from a spurious question of innocence but because of the love that others so clearly have for him and are able to express (especially his girlfriend, who appears to have very significant disabilities of her own).

Steve James approaches the subject thoughtfully and not naively, conveying his own sense of unease with what he is doing both as a filmmaker and as a former mentor to Stevie. The film is as much about his own tentative attempts to understand Stevie and what Stevie has become as it is about Stevie himself. James's wife, who counsels sex offenders, plays an important role in this film, helping James and Stevie understand what Stevie has become.

One problem with studying or working with perpetrators of crimes is that if you look hard enough, you often find that they too are victims (and with Stevie, you don't have to look too hard to see this). James does not paint a world of black and white morality, and his conflicted sympathy for Stevie is troublesome for him and for the audience. This is, then, an unflinching documentary in which we can watch the filmmaker flinch with discomfort at his own process. The documentary form can be an act of witnessing (see annotation of 0197), but here, we watch as James, a documentarian, decides that witnessing is not enough. We see the subsequent difficulties he has participating in the life of, as well as sympathizing and caring, for a man like Stevie.


At the 2003 Sundance Film Festival the film won best cinematography for a documentary and was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize.

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