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Through the Fire (Director's Cut) Print E-mail
Tuesday, 14 March 2006

Through The Fire

ESPN Home Entertainment
MPAA rating: Unrated (suitable for general audiences)
Starring: Sebastian Telfair
theatrical release: 2005
DVD release: 2006
film rating: Two-and-a-half Stars
sound/picture rating: Three Stars
reviewed by: Paul Lingas
“Through the Fire” tells the story of former high school basketball phenom and current Portland Trailblazer Sebastian Telfair. Though supposed to be in the same vein as “Hoop Dreams,” this film lacks the dramatic flair of its predecessor.

Sebastian Telfair was a Coney Island basketball star at famed Lincoln High School a few years ago who had committed to play at the University of Louisville. The film follows Telfair over the course of that year, his third high school city championship and his decision to turn pro and declare for the NBA draft. While there seems to be tragedy and hardship in Telfair’s life, it is given only a cursory glance and at times it disappears completely. For example, there is often a man around who seems to be the father of at least one of his brothers, if not Telfair himself, yet we are never told who this man is. In fact, if anything, the filmmakers do Telfair a disservice by making it seem as though, while his surroundings are tough and somewhat violent, his future was never truly in doubt. This ends up cheapening Telfair’s accomplishment, which was to be drafted thirteenth overall, even over the many questions that surrounded his talent and ability to make the jump to the NBA from high school. The focus of director Jonathan Hock’s film is the sheer weight of Telfair’s decision between going to college or turning pro. While the film is invariably sunny in its outlook, it does make the decision seem a bit of a no-brainer, especially when Telfair has to take into consideration the welfare of his mother and nine siblings. The discussion of money, the idea of basketball being the escape from the projects, the offer of a lucrative shoe contract even before he made his final decision, all help to heavily tilt Telfair toward the NBA. More than anything, the film ends up being a study in the business of professional sports and how it plays with the hopes and dreams of the youth, but especially those who consider pro sports to be their golden ticket. Indeed, the title of the film belies its rather foregone conclusion.

The bonus features are nice for a documentary like this and there are many of them. There are extended interview sessions with Telfair, Louisville coach Rick Pitino and others, some of which were conducted after the timeline of the film. The interviews can be both tedious and refreshing, depending on your mood while watching them. My favorite one is with Telfair’s older brother Jamel Thomas, whose own story is perhaps even more compelling than his younger brother’s. The playground and game highlights are fun, each really taking the opportunity to show Telfair’s abilities in uninterrupted form, though at times the editing choices are suspect. The director’s commentary is a bit distracting and doesn’t give enough additional information to be truly necessary, though the addition of cinematographer Alastair Christopher adds a raw and honest look at the pleasures and difficulties of the shoot. In a documentary, the real information is, or should be, provided in the film itself. What might be compelling about documentary commentary are tidbits about locations, difficulty with filming particular scenes and the like, but Hock instead talks about fairly pedantic things that aren’t really worth listening to for the full 103 minutes. The deleted scenes are helpful, as they provide a larger context for the overall film and these, together with the extended interviews, give a greater sense as to the lives of these people. Also included is the Q&A session with Telfair and Hock after the film’s premiere at the 2005 Tribeca Film Festival. Like all the bonus features, it helps to present a fuller picture of the life and times of the people the film is about. Most fascinating is the revelation that Hock had set out to do a documentary on the entire Lincoln basketball team and its quest to win three city championships in a row, but then decided that Telfair himself was the more compelling story. These features provide the basis for any sort of “making of” featurette, as it is difficult to show behind the scenes footage on a documentary, since on a documentary, there is (supposedly) no difference between reality and the end product. What you see is what you get in the increasingly popular world of documentary film and television. One additional feature of note is an excerpt from host company ESPN’s “The Life” with Telfair’s cousin, NBA star and former Coney Island resident Stephon Marbury. It is interesting to see and hear Marbury’s own account, however brief, of his own path from the courts of Coney Island to the hardwood of the NBA. The footage was shot on video and looks crisp, if a bit digitally grainy at times. The sound mix uses the 5.1 channels to greatest effect when adding the score and crowd effects, but overall, it isn’t anything special, since it is comprised mostly of dialogue and backgrounds.

“Through the Fire” is a misnamed though overall pleasing enough documentary, accessible to all sorts of people, whether your interest is in basketball, documentary filmmaking, New York, social science or simply human drama. Presented here in as crisp and clean a form as it is likely to ever be seen and with a plethora of special features, the DVD is worth a look.
more details
sound format: English 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround Sound
aspect ratio: 1.78:1
special features: Deleted Scenes; Extended Interviews; Playground and Game Highlights; Q&A from Tribeca Film Festival; Director’s Commentary; French and Spanish Subtitles
comments: email us here...
reference system
DVD player: Panasonic DVD-XP50
receiver: Denon AVR-3802
main speakers: Venturi V820
center speaker: Polk CS 400i
rear speakers: Tannoy PBM 6.5
monitor: 43” Sony KP-43HT20

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