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Monday, September 14, 2009

MORE THAN A GAME

By D.E.Levine

Director: Kristopher Belman
Writers: Kristopher Belman and Brad Hogan
Cast: LeBron James, Dru Joyce III, Sian Cotton, Willie McGee, Coach Dru Joyce II, Romeo Travis
Producers: Harvey Mason Jr., Kristopher Belman, Matthew Perniciaro, Kevin Mann
Executive Producers: Harvey Mason Jr., Maverick Carter, LeBron James and Jimmy Iovine
Co-Producers: Stephanie DeNatale and Brian Joe
Associate Producers: Danny Gao, Humberto Ramirez Jr. and V. Scott Balcerek
Original Music: Harvey Mason Jr.
Running Time: 105 Minutes
Country of Origin: United States
Language: English
Genre: Documentary

Everyone should see this film, because what it teaches transcends skin color and ethnic background. It's a beautiful film made by some very talented people about the development and growth of some really talented youths. It's a coming of age story about forming friendships and young men with a story so good it could never have been dreamed up by a fiction writer. And it's also a love story of parents for their children and friend for friend.

Certainly helmer Khristopher Belman was blessed with luck when as an unknown beginning filmmaker he decided to follow his local Akron high school basketball team from St. Vincent-St. Mary around, intending to make a short film. At the time, one of the high school players was a youth named LeBron James. who would shortly become an NBA superstar.

When James became a high school superstar given national coverage and then an NBA superstar, the unknown Belman suddenly found himself with a film that could become a hot property if handled correctly - and he took his time to handle it correctly and craft it into a fascinating and truthful documentary.

Incorporating home movies filmed by Coach Dru Joyce II when the original four boys (James, Joyce III, Cotton and McGee) started playing together at age 10 in a Salvation Army donated area, Belman investigates their motivation, their mostly disadvantaged backgrounds, and the magical way in which they formed a friendship and learned consummate teamwork which made them not only a force to be reckoned with locally, but took them across the United States competing with the best basketball teams in the nation. Eventually, they became national heroes and Akron was placed firmly on the map as far as basketball.

Coach Joyce left corporate America to coach when his son told him basketball was what he wanted to do in life. Smaller and thinner than all the other boys, Joyce III compensated for his size by being better at other things and frequently was the deciding factor in winning the game. The interviews with Coach Joyce about his decision to seek something more satisfying by supporting his son and the others, to encourage and shape them as young men instead of just making money in corporate America, is extremely moving

Devoted to each other, the four boys passed up the all black high school in favor of the mostly white, Irish St.Vincent-St. Mary because the coach at the black high school wasn't willing to give Joyce III a chance to play due to his small size. Told they were selling out their own kind, they stuck together through it all.

This type of devotion is repeatedly demonstrated in the careful examination of the four athletes made by Belman. Their devotion to each other, the addition of Travis in high school, and the effects of it all, is studied in depth by Belman.

As good as the team is, the standout is James who was singled out in high school as the most outstanding high school player in the nation and went on to become an NBA star. Despite James' meteoric rise, to Belman's credit he examines each of the five youths in depth, from their family background to the aspirations, giving them equal coverage and including news coverage and interviews with their original high school coach.

When their high school coach leaves in their junior year, the boys feel abandoned, betrayed and angry. Even after Coach Joyce picks up the reins, their emotional turmoil is manifested as we see their game fall apart. The viewer sees the friendship, the egos, the overconfidence and the problems with celebrity as the team spirals downward.

It's not a fairy tale, but this story does have a happy ending. Coach Joyce decides his attempt to raise the right kind of young men has been overshadowed by his basketball coaching and shifts his teaching method to emphasis their friendship, support for each other, and the fact that their senior year is their last year together.

As we see the triumphant outcome, we also get to hear how each of the five players was affected. To his credit, Belman doesn't leave us hanging at the end. Instead he tells us what became of each of the five friends and we're able to see if and how they achieved their goals.

This is definitely a feel good film. But, beyond that, it's a frank look at the difference that friendship and teamwork can make for athletes, and a raw look at how much the parents gave and sacrificed in order to make a better life for their kids by letting them work hard at something for which they really had a passion and supporting them unconditionally.

While Belman may have thought this would be a small film, it now looks like it could accelerate to become as big or bigger than Hoop Dreams.