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From Hoop Dreams To Reel Life

By Scott Smith in Arts & Entertainment on Sep 21, 2005 3:55PM

Steve James.

Unless you’re a film geek, the name may not sound familiar. But he’s one of a handful of documentary filmmakers over the last ten years that have changed the way the public views and consumes these films thanks to a little movie called Hoop Dreams.

Hoop Dreams began as a short documentary on sidewalk basketball and evolved into a commentary on the outside forces that can shape your life’s goals. Roger Ebert called it the best film of 1994 and his favorite film of the 1990s. Thanks to its subject matter, it also brought a wider audience to documentary filmmaking.

To be fair, part of James’ impact is accidental. After the film failed to get an Oscar nomination for Best Documentary, Ebert and Entertainment Weekly raised hell over the then ass-backwards rules for nominating documentaries. Now, the people who actually make documentaries are voting for the nominees.

2005_09_21_reel.jpgJames, currently living in Oak Park, continues to make fictional and documentary films that revolve around compelling real-life characters. His latest is Reel Paradise, a film about John Pierson, an indie film Obi Wan, who has helped guide the careers of many filmmakers like James, Spike Lee, Kevin Smith and Michael Moore.

The film follows Pierson as he operates the 180 Meridian Cinema, a movie house on the island of Fiji that shows free movies to a populace whose most popular form of entertainment had previously been Friday night showings of Walker: Texas Ranger on the island’s only television channel. Pierson moves his whole family down to Fiji to accomplish this feat, which conjures up images of Harrison Ford in The Mosquito Coast—a comparison that’s probably not far off the mark.

A hit on the festival circuit, Reel Paradise arrives at the Music Box Theatre on Friday for a weeklong run. The Music Box is touting an appearance by James, but doesn’t reveal when that will be. We’re guessing Friday but be sure and check the website for further details.