Back in 1987, documentary director-producer Steve James and his partner Frederick Marx joined with director of photography and producer Peter Gilbert to create a documentary about two ghetto youths from Chicago playing high school basketball and pursuing their dream to be on an NBA team. The filmmaking trio had only $2,500 with which to make the documentary, so they shot on video. After logging more than 250 hours of footage, they knew they had something more than a mere TV documentary. Instead, the result turned out to be the feature documentary "Hoop Dreams" (1994), which earned a place on most Top 10 lists and won virtually every critical award as Best Documentary although in a brouhaha that eventually changed the way Hollywood judges documentaries failed to be nominated for an Academy Award. In what was viewed as a sort of consolation prize, "Hoop Dreams" did earn an Oscar nomination for Best Film Editing. Some of the unused footage was employed in the 30-minute TV documentary "Higher Goals" (PBS, 1992) which was nominated for an Emmy. With Spike Lee, the trio has also been collaborating on an TNT special based on the film.
A Virginia native, James received his masters from Southern Illinois University in the mid-1980s and subsequently began a long association with Kartemquin Films, producing and/or directing documentaries. In 1991, he wrote and directed "Grassroots Chicago," about the crucial role that community organizations play in the fight for social change. He also made the "Stop Substance Abuse" films and videos which featured Michael Jordan and Walter Payson. With the success of "Hoop Dreams," James has become associated with the human side of athletics. In 1996, he joined with Peter Gilbert again to make a segment on the Serbo-Croat basketball team for the "Sports Illustrated Olympics Special: A Prelude to the Games." The following year, he made his feature directorial debut with "Prefontaine," starring Jared Leto as the American Olympic runner who died tragically before the 1976 games. Since the film was a biography of sorts, James (aided by Gilbert's camerawork) created a fictional film with the feel of a documentary. Some critics faulted the narrow focus and "talking head" style which included expositional interviews by the family and friends of the main character (played by actors).
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Misc. Crew (Special)
Director (TV Mini-Series)
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Editing (TV Mini-Series)
Began producing and directing documentaries for Kartemquin Films
Wrote and directed documentary "Grassroots Chicago"
Directed first feature length documentary "Hoop Dreams"; nominated for an Oscar for Best Film Editing
Directed first feature, the biopic "Prefontaine"; also co-wrote with Eugene Corr
Helmed the TNT movie "Passing Glory"
Directed and produced the documentary "Stevie"
Directed and produced the documentary "Reel Paradise," about the world's most remote movie theater located in Fiji
Helmed the documentary "At the Death House Door," which investigated the wrongful death of Carlos DeLuna, who was executed in Texas on Dec. 7, 1989; also produced
Directed and produced "The Interrupters," a documentary about a city grappling with urban violence