Another film that’s playing in competition this year (in the Documentary Feature category) is Chi-Town, a film documenting the basketball career of Kiefer Sykes, a tiny young basketball prodigy from the south-side of Chicago, and the journey this young man takes from high school to his NBA dreams. With a synopsis like that, there are obviously parallels to Hoop Dreams by Steve James, another film about basketball players from the south-side of Chicago and the greatest American documentary of all time. So with that in mind, this film sounded right up by alley. Of course this is not the next Hoop Dreams, but Chi-Town is an inspiring and uplifting film about following your dreams, getting out of a bad situation, and never giving up. Chi-Town is screening one more time during the festival, and I recommend going to check it out if you haven’t already.
The film covers the span of about five years, as director Nick Budabin followed the life and journey from high school basketball in the city of Chicago to his career playing at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay to his attempts at making the big time in the NBA. Sykes is a tiny ball-player (he’s about 5 foot 11 inches if I remember) but he’s got an incredible vertical leap and passion as a player. On top of all this, Sykes is also having to escape Chicago and the dangers of living on the south-side, as many people he knows and loves end up paralyzed or dead from gun violence in the area in the span of the 5 years of this film.
When addressing the gun violence in the film, Budabin doesn’t get political and express his means for gun control in the area. The most political moment of this film is a sequence when we see Sykes play his final college game in the city of Chicago edited together with a then-recent appearance in Chicago at the time of then-President Obama talking about the importance of energizing and reinvigorating the communities in America to make sure that young men and women of color can escape poverty and violence in their communities, and live a healthy and violence-free life. I’m not criticizing the film for not getting political, especially in light of recent events, but it doesn’t need to be.
We’re all on the same page for the most part about how we need to do something in this country to prevent gun violence from happening as frequently as it does, but the point of this film is to show an example of somebody that was able to get out of Chicago, follow his dreams, and not get sucked into that lifestyle on the south-side. While Sykes is still chasing that dream of playing in the NBA (after the screening the other day, Sykes informed us that he had been playing international basketball and planned on going to train with an NBA team over the summer), his story is still such an inspiring and powerful one, given what he’s been through in his life, seeing people he loves dead or paralyzed from the violence, and he’s one of the lucky few. And he doesn’t take it for granted, and he continues to be grateful for his life, his wife and two children, his mother, and the rest of the family.
Nick Budabin’s Chi-Town is a really well made little documentary. The story of Kiefer Sykes is a very inspiring and moving story, and I hope that there continues to be other young men in the south-side of Chicago who have success similar to Sykes, with going to college and graduating with a good education. And, if you’re life me, you’ll immediately become a fan of Kiefer Sykes and want to follow his career and make sure that his hoop dreams are able to come true. As mentioned before, the film is screening one more time during the festival on Wednesday, so if you have the time I recommend going to check this one out.