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Through the Fire

Jonathan Hock's docu jettisons ethical quandaries about the questionable relationship between corporate-funded sports and kids from the projects in favor of a heroic, suspense-filled story that plays like well-structured fiction. Upbeat Urbanworld documentary prizewinner could score well in sports venues.

Jonathan Hock’s docu jettisons ethical quandaries about the questionable relationship between corporate-funded sports and kids from the projects in favor of a heroic, suspense-filled story that plays like well-structured fiction. With a real-life athlete as talented and charismatic as Coney Island hoop prodigy Sebastian Telfair, almost any outcome would probably have made for good drama, but Hock lucked out when life provided a happy ending. Upbeat Urbanworld documentary prizewinner, full of strong personalities and crisply edited court action, could score well in sports venues.

Since sixth grade, Telfair qualified as a legend in his basketball-obsessed neighborhood. Now in his senior year of high school, scouts follow his games, sportswriters analyze his every move, and Jay-Z and Spike Lee are frequently in the stands watching.

Telfair calls a well-attended press conference to announce his choice of university (Louisville), and when his high school team wins the championship for the third straight year, speculation is rife as to whether he will join the ranks of young players drafted by the NBA straight out of high school.

No sooner does Telfair answer that question, opting to try for pro ball (helped along by the stick-and-carrotcoincidence of a fatal shooting where he lives and the offer of a multi-million dollar sneaker contract), than the press begins to turn against him, emphasizing his spotty shooting record and under-6′ height.

The suspense then shifts: Will he be drafted by the NBA or will he wind up like his talented, older brother, passed over after a stellar college season, and now playing professional ball in Greece?

Helmer Hock, whose credits include the ESPN skein “Streetball” and the Imax “Michael Jordan to the Max,” sticks like glue to Telfair. Sebastian’s coach and brothers provide running commentary on his career while lenser Alistair Christopher’s HD camera trains on Telfair as he ducks, bobs, weaves, passes and dunks his way through crucial, nail-biting championship games and attempts to prove his worth as a team player.

Extensive media coverage of developments in the unfolding saga neatly colors pic’s exposition. But more than anything else, Hock’s job is expedited by Telfair himself — the kid’s clean-cut looks and million-dollar smile clearly as relevant as his athletic prowess in winning him his lucrative sneaker contract, his front-page spread in “Sports Illustrated” and even his effortless domination of the screen.

Having had years to fully accept his talents and assume responsibility for parlaying his gifts into a better future for his family, Telfair appears serenely conscious of all the forces at play. Extremely media savvy (his cousin is Knicks star Stephon Marbury), Telfair seems capable of taking the hoopla in stride.

Given his subject’s supreme self-confidence, Hock’s up-close-and-personal approach is relentlessly forward-driven and leaves no room for questioning anything beyond the unfair arbitrariness of a fickle system that rewards one brother with millions and another with exile to Greece.

Tech credits are polished.

Through the Fire

Production: A Hock Films production. Produced by Jonathan Hock. Executive producer, Diane Houslin. Co-producer, Philip Aromando. Directed by Jonathan Hock. Co-director, Alastair Christopher.

Crew: Camera (color, HD), Christopher; editors, Steven Pilgrim, Sam Citron; music, Duncan Sheik, Pete Miser; sound, Vince Caputo. Reviewed on DVD in New York, June 23, 2005. (In Urbanworld, Tribeca film festivals.) Running time: 103 MIN.

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