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From a young age, I wanted to play in the NBA. Oh well... It was when I was a senior in college that I fell for film, but even then, it wasn't documentaries. It wasn't until I ended up in graduate school at Southern Illinois University that I really discovered documentaries and thought that maybe that would be my calling.
For most of my films, I've had to go out and start shooting before I could get the rest of the funding. That was the case with 'Hoop Dreams,' 'Stevie' and 'The Interrupters:' We started them quietly out of Kartemquin Films, only really going to funders once we had something to show and a firm idea of what the film might be.
Generally, I don't like publicity on docs in progress, much less ones that are only in development; I've always tried to stay under the radar in terms of any press, especially with regard to the subjects of the film. I don't want them to be thinking about the film or funding or what the public reaction is going to be.
I love the idea of sharing some of what we find in the research phase with a select community of people early on as a perk for their donating, and then gauging their feedback.
One of the differences between real documentaries and reality television, besides the artificial construct of reality television, is that the people who are recruited to be on those shows, and the people who are interested in going on those shows, basically want to be famous. Or maybe they can win a million dollars or something.
You kind of form a bond with your subjects, in a way. You're in it together. To a degree that people don't realize, documentary films - or at least the kind of documentary films I'm interested in - are a collaborative undertaking with the subjects.
'Generation Food' is a collaboration between myself and author/activist Raj Patel that will tell stories about efforts around the world to try to solve the food crisis - through a documentary, a book, a website and mobile apps.
Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel first championed my film, 'Hoop Dreams,' which was essential to its success. Roger remained a great supporter of my work throughout my career, and I'll never forget him tweeting about 'The Interrupters' right before its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival in 2011.
I'm endlessly fascinated with the ways families work and the ways they don't.
It's usually human drama that carries with it issues of race or class that attracts me. That was certainly the case with 'No Crossover.'
It was no accident that I made 'Hoop Dreams' because it concerned a sport that I loved and hoped would be my dream, however far-fetched that turned out to be. Because of the success of that film, Hollywood pigeonholed me as a sports biopic guy, which led to 'Prefontaine' and two cable sports films.
I think when people go into something for the right reasons, you're going to get a better film; you're going to get more intimacy and a stronger foundation of trust.
I am deeply honored to be making 'Life Itself,' a documentary on the life of Roger Ebert, and to have had the full cooperation and enthusiasm of Roger and his wife, Chaz.
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