Steve James (film producer)

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Steve James
Born (1954-03-08) March 8, 1954 (age 66)
Hampton, Virginia, United States
Alma mater
OccupationFilm director, producer
Years active1986–present

Steve James (born March 8, 1954)[1][2] is an American film producer and director of several documentaries, including Hoop Dreams (1994), Stevie (2002), and Abacus: Small Enough to Jail (2016).

Life and career[edit]

James was born in Hampton, Virginia.[2] He directed the 1997 feature film Prefontaine and the TV movies Passing Glory and Joe and Max. One of his more recent films, The Interrupters, a portrayal of a year inside the lives of former gang members in Chicago who now intervene in violent conflicts, was released in January 2011, after premiering at the Sundance Film Festival. The film is his sixth feature length collaboration with his long-time filmmaking home, the non-profit Chicago production studio Kartemquin Films, and is also his fifth feature to be accepted into the Sundance Film Festival.

While working with Kartemquin Films, James has produced many films that pursue social inquiry and change. Their collaborations include the 1994 hit Hoop Dreams, which is one of James' best known works. Kartemquin films, a non-profit group that produces films promoting "social inquiry", is based in Chicago. Much of James' work is based in the area, predominately the inner cities and impoverished areas. Their collaborations often touch on the topics of sports and race, including the ESPN 30 for 30 film No Crossover: The Trial of Allen Iverson. On September 7, 2012, it was announced via social networking site Twitter that James would be involved in the making of a documentary on the life of film critic Roger Ebert which eventually became the 2014 effort Life Itself.[3]

He directed the documentary film Head Games which follows football player and wrestler Chris Nowinski's quest to uncover the truth about the consequences of sports related head injuries.


He is a graduate of James Madison University.[4] His work, he tells journalist Robert K. Elder in an interview for The Film That Changed My Life, was strongly influenced by the film Harlan County, USA:

There've been many documentaries over the years that have powerfully impacted me. I think this one came along at the time when I was more interested in being a feature filmmaker than a documentary filmmaker. So it came along at the beginning of a process of moving from an interest in feature film to documentaries, and that's where my career has taken me. It came along at the right time for me. It helped me see, "Ah, this is more what I want to do."[5]

James also pulls influence from the original definition of the term cinéma vérité as it applies to the Rouch/Morin method of filmmaking. Just as with Rouch and Morin, the "people on camera and we in the audience are continually reminded that a film is being made, that we are watching a film." We are reminded of this through James' presence on screen as well as his cinematic editing techniques, in order to obtain, what he believes is a more accurate depiction of truth.[6]

He also was influenced by Robert Altman's 1975 film Nashville.[7]



  1. ^ "Kartemquin Films on Twitter". Twitter. Retrieved 2017-01-22.
  2. ^ a b "Steve James Biography (1954-)". Retrieved 2017-01-22.
  3. ^ Deutsch, Lindsay (Sep 10, 2012). "Roger Ebert film, Kindle Paperwhite first look". USA Today. Retrieved Sep 12, 2012.
  4. ^ "JMU Alumni Association – 1994: Steve James ('77)". Retrieved 2017-01-22.
  5. ^ Elder, Robert K. (2011). The Film That Changed My Life: 30 Directors on Their Epiphanies in the Dark. Chicago Review Press. p. 113. ISBN 9781556528255.
  6. ^ Ellis, Jack C.; McLane, Betsy A. (2005-08-01). "Chapter Fourteen: Direct Cinema and Cinéma Vérité, 1960–1970". A New History of Documentary Film. pp. 214–215. ISBN 9780826417510.
  7. ^ Steve James Explores the American Tapestry on Nashville|The Current|The Criterion Collection
  8. ^ Phillips, Michael (January 22, 2018). "From Sundance to Starz: America to Me Goes Deep and Wide on Race, Education". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved January 23, 2018.

External links[edit]