on March 28, 2003 by Shlomo Schwartzberg
Steven James, co-director of the acclaimed "Hoop Dreams," returns with a superb documentary about Stevie Franklin, a troubled soul who tests the patience of those who love him. If it was easy to root for the economically deprived African American teens striving for basketball stardom in "Hoop Dreams," "Stevie" offers no such solace. First encountered by the director when he acted as a big brother to a likable but disturbed 11-year-old boy, "Stevie" picks up 10 years later when Steven James decides to re-enter the boy's life. James finds the adult Stevie to be a foul-mouthed, drug-taking, angry man, torn between his "loving" grandmother and "uncaring" mother, who use him for their own ends. He's also getting into trouble with the law and, eventually, is accused of molesting a little girl.

It's the film's supreme accomplishment that James never sugarcoats his subject's actions and, in fact, cannot equivocally state that Stevie is innocent of this heinous crime. Nor does James let himself off the hook regarding his own guilty reasons for making this movie. The director, however, also knows--and shows--that Stevie didn't necessarily have to turn out the way he did. Had a loving foster family who really cared about him not had to leave the young boy to the mercies of a brutal institution, who knows how he would have developed? "Stevie" is full of complex observations like these--a recognition that there are many paths, some not taken, that form a child before he turns into an adult. The film also respects its lower-class subjects, with the most telling analyses of Stevie's behavior and attitudes coming from Tonya, Stevie's' loving fiancée, who is as wise as any first-rate psychotherapist. The film is long--James understandably cannot get enough of Ste Directed by Steven James. Produced by Steven James, Adam D. Singer and Gordon Quinn. A Lions Gate release. Documentary. Not yet rated. Running time: 14

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