This is a marathon documentary rated by Roger Ebert as the greatest film of the nineties and the greatest documentary. It is held out as a film which may inspire the young generation. More than that, I found it a highly telling and informative of life in the highly competitive and economically merciless set-up of American society, and, by extension, of other countries, and increasingly our own.
We too are not unfamiliar with the mind crippling competition into which Indian children are being plunged into at an early stage. Education has turned into a commodity and the depth of pocket a primary determinant.
The film is about two teenage black American boys living in the inner-city ( the poorer section of the community, afflicted with violence and drug abuse ). Like Indian kids aspiring to cricket stardom, they aspire to play basket-ball at the national level.
A unique feature of this documentary is that it was shot over a period of five years as the camera follows them and their families and schools. There are many interviews with the teenagers, their parents, teachers and we can be assured that what we are seeing is a slice of reality, not a mere film.
We see the struggles of the two families to make ends meet. The boys were recruited on scholarships based on their sports potential but one of them is dropped due to underperformance while the other is handicapped by a knee injury. The heroic struggle of the mothers against daunting financial odds to realise the dream of a college degree, which spells respectability and dignity in a vicious environment.
The new blogpost by Ebert tells us that in later years they were able to achieve their dream of a college degree although they decided to abandon the game. Both are well settled now, one as a pastor and the other in his business.
This is a difficult film to write about since it does not have the neat packaging and structure which even the most abstruse feature film has. It is the raw material of life in which even the questions are hard to formulate, leave alone answers.
Ebert says cinema is a window in the box of space and time in which we live. Hitchcock is said to have called it voyeurism. The present film can be regarded as voyeurism in an extreme and extended sense in which we share and participate in a journey through many other's lives. The film-makers have wisely chosen to remain as unobtrusive as possible, trying not to extract any conclusions.
For that reason it deserves to be observed minutely.