Remember the 1994 documentary “Hoop Dreams,” about two high- school basketball standouts from Chicago? A superb film.
The first time I heard about it was on “Siskel & Ebert.” They gave the movie unconditional raves.
Matter fact, Gene and Roger talked up “Hoop Dreams” before it had a distribution deal. Even before it screened at the Sundance Film Festival. Their support launched the three-hour doc to commercial success.
My path crossed in cyberspace with Steve James, the director of “Hoop Dreams,” a few years ago. So I reached out on Facebook to see if Steve had any thoughts to share about Mr. Siskel, Mr. Ebert and “Hoop Dreams.”
Turns out the publicity firm representing “Hoop Dreams” had a working relationship with Siskel & Ebert. “They talked Gene into seeing the film because he was a huge basketball fan with Bulls season tickets,” Steve James says.
“And they talked Roger into seeing it by talking about its social relevance and shrewdly asking him to bring along his lovely wife Chaz, who they were certain would respond to the film.”
The publicists set up a special showing. “Of course, being pros, [Gene and Roger] kept their game face on for the entire private screening and left without saying a word,” Steve recalls.
“It was only when the show called to tell us that it would be reviewed that coming week that we knew they must have liked it. We couldn’t have dreamed they would like it so much.
“We hadn’t even left for Sundance ourselves when the review ran on their show urging people to see it at the festival.”
Embedded below is that review... and more.
As Steve James relates, that early review was only the beginning. “They reviewed and promoted it again and again for its theatrical release, and on their Academy Awards show, and their end-of-the-year 10 Best lists.”
That’s what Siskel & Ebert could do when they got behind a picture. God bless ’em.
By the way, the full-length version of “Hoop Dreams” can be viewed right now, for free, on Hulu. Just follow this link.