The U.S. debut of Kris Belman’s film documenting the rise of the “Fab Five” basketball players from Akron St. Vincent St. Mary’s was held Monday night at the Silverdocs Film Festival in Silver Spring, MD in front of four sold-out theaters. Denny was on hand to witness the event and offers up his film review here. This is the first of three pieces WFNY will run about the film. Parts two and three will follow tomorrow and Wednesday.
Six years ago we all heard of the juggernaut of a basketball team that was hooping it up at SVSM. We knew about LeBron James, the kid who outdueled Carmelo Anthony in a game against Oak Hill academy as a junior. We knew that they moved their games to the University of Akron arena to increase seating capacity for home games. We knew a bit about his teammates, but it was largely LeBron and his supporting cast (hey, that sounds familiar). Luckily for us, there was someone along for the ride – and that someone had a camera.
Filmmaker Kris Belman has spent the better part of seven years bringing this film to fruition from his first day of filming. The result is an honest, largely hype-free look into the lives of five friends. The film begins with the preparation for the team’s final game, and then goes back to the beginning, with home video tapes of AAU basketball games shot in anonymous gymnasiums all around the country. The boys talk about fundraisers – where they tried every fundraiser they could think of. Tidbits arise, such as duct tape being a great fundraiser, and setting up shop outside of a liquor store gaining the most income. As the film rolls on, Coach Dru Joyce II takes us through the beginnings of a touching story about friends becoming men together and sharing the joy of basketball.
As the film progresses we are introduced to the five boys that it centers around: Dru Joyce III, the undersized point guard who struggles to establish a healthy relationship with his father, who also coaches the team. Sian Cotton is the big boy of the group – very close with his older brother, who pushes him to become the best he can be. LeBron James is the only child of a single mother, whom he is extremely close with even as they move numerous times during his formative years. Willie McGee is the quiet one, who moved away from a broken home in Chicago to live with his oldest brother, who just graduated from the University of Akron. Later on in the story we are introduced to Romeo Travis, who joins the team their sophomore year of high school but struggles to fit in with the four close friends who “are like sisters, who buy each other birthday gifts at 16 years old”.
As the players mature, it is apparent that they have talent. Dru came in off the bench as a freshman in the state championship game and hit seven three pointers. LeBron and Romeo are amazing athletes who can do most anything on the court. However, as they move along, they become complacent and lose the title their junior year. They come back with a renewed sense of urgency and win the state and national titles as seniors. None of this is new information – as fans of Northeast Ohio sports, we all know this. The magic of this film is the honesty and the level of comfort the subjects have with each other and with the filmmaker.
Edited into the storyline is commentary by each player and Coach Dru, telling their story as it unfolds. The piecing together of video and text, audio and still photography (which isn’t really still but animated ever-so-slightly to give it life) keeps everything fresh and in focus. Not only are the characters sincere, the visual and audio meld together to enhance the story. We don’t just see five boys grow up. We see them experience highs and lows that we all remember from our time in sports. We all know what is going to happen in the end, but it doesn’t matter because we care about what they are saying right now.
The film isn’t perfect – although the soundtrack does a great job of conveying the attitude and spirit of the subjects it is portraying, I thought there were times when it got in the way. The film wasn’t meant to be a highlight reel for LeBron, yet many times that’s where the focus went. Game films were clipped into a Sportscenter-like amalgamation of dunks and posturing, which didn’t convey the joys of winning.
One thing the film truly does show is the growing of the character of LeBron. Early in the film he is playing the game extremely well and showing some emotion. Later on, the showman begins to grow – to a greater extent than he shows off and postures today. We also see the maturing of the boys, especially Romeo Travis, as he begins to not only become friends with the others, but also begins to slightly soften his emotional shell.
The film is very well done in my opinion, and is definitely worth checking out. For those in DC, it will be showing again Sunday evening at 7:00 PM at the Silverdocs Film Festival in Silver Spring. For movie trailers and more information, visit www.morethanagamemovie.com. There is more info on their Twitter feed. More Than A Game starts showing in Cleveland, NYC, and LA in early October.
WFNY would like to send out a big thanks to Minjae Ormes and everyone at Silverdocs for getting our attention about the festival and helping us out with press access. We’d also like to thank the people at Lionsgate for helping set up interviews.
Photo Credit: Dennis Mayo, WaitingForNextYear.com