The City Game focuses coverage on the game of basketball at the amateur levels in and around the city of Chicago; Justin Dukes is a contributor to WARR.com
This past weekend, ArcLight Cinemas, on the North Side of Chicago hosted a screening for the newly released basketball documentary “Shot in The Dark,” which details the lives on and off the court of the players and coach of the Orr Academy High School boys basketball team, highlighting in particular head coach Lou Adams and two of the team’s stars, Tyquone Greer and Marquise Pryor.
“I had known coach Lou for many years.” producer Daniel Poneman told me after the film, which was a part of the JCC Film Fest this month, airing both in Evanston and Chicago. The film has already had multiple airings on Fox broadcasting and FS1 cable channel as part of the network’s “Magnify” series of sports documentaries.
“Coach Lou used to be the coach at Englewood High School, and Englewood closed down for poor test scores and he picked Orr to go to. He basically went from the worst school on the south side to the worst school on the west side reputation wise, and started taking in these kids other schools didn’t want. I just met Tyquone a few weeks before I got the email from Dusty (Nakao-Haider) and he was the first person that popped in my head when he asked for a subject, and it lead us on a 7-year journey.”
Having played against coach Lou while still coaching at Englewood during my high school days, it was refreshing to see the story of one of the good guys not going unsung. In the film he plays the role of mentor and in many senses father figure to many of the players of Orr’s team. In an area stricken with violence among many other opportunities for failure, Adam’s adopts more of a life coach role and is seen in numerous scenes advising players on the game of life.
In a cutaway scene reflecting on his role with the players, a gunshot ringing out in the background interrupts the moment with Adams which sums up the realness of the situation. While also dealing with a heart blockage which is detailed in the film, the role that is allowing Adams to breathe life into his players is also draining what life he has left which ultimately makes this a race against time.
“I think coach Lou saw the bigger picture from the beginning.” said cinematographer Ben Vogel. “Those intimate moments were a result of us being present for the less interesting moments, birthday parties, family events, just so many times we were just around filming, so when someone is having a breakdown and I’m present, it’s normal.
A player looking to turn back the hands of time for much of the film was forward Marquis Pryor who spends parts of the movie in jail for an illegal possession of a firearm charge which ultimately cost him all scholarship opportunities. The beauty in the film is that it paints as best it can a picture of objectivity, specifically in the life of Pryor who spends most of the film off the court. Far from the stereotypical gun toting kid image his charge would lead you to imagine, Pryor’s weapon was more so a source of protection for him and his loved ones.
“Tyquone introduced me to Marquise and we made it as a short film initially, and every time I’d come back home I’d film a little more with them.” said director Dustin Nakao Haider.
“Then Marquise was arrested about six months after that and was on the front cover of the tribune, which was on the film and it was that moment Ben and I were like this film is going to get out of our hands if we don’t go back and start filming.
The real image painted by Pryor’s story is the double life high wire act that thousands of kids in Chicago must walk daily.
Not having the strongest support system, star guard Greer was seen running with gang members during the film, but expressed that gangs are more so an unavoidable part of the environment as opposed to a club you sign up to join.
Whatever the case may be, Greer paid a price during the film in the form of a bullet going through his leg from gunfire in his area. As tragic of an event this appeared to be, it also set up one of the more powerful moments of the film.
The Spartans would go on to win the state title at the end of the film — the program has also won the last two IHSA 2A titles, the latest coming earlier this month — with Greer being the leading man who produced a good number of highlights to keep the adrenaline filled on the court action going throughout.
“At the beginning of the season, I remember speaking to the team and telling them this would not be an easy road, so they would have to trust us for the high highs and the low lows.” said Nakao-Hader.
Overall the film felt like a success, and will have viewers that may not even be basketball fans asking for more.
“We were seeing a lot of the way Chicago was being represented in terms of these national headlines, and there was this golden age of high school basketball that was happening, said Nakao-Haider.
“Derrick Rose, Jabari Parker, Jahlil Okafor, and a lot of players that were coming out at the same time, and there seemed to be two big narratives that seemed to be missing something which to me was a lot of the humanity and a lot of the real stories that were happening.”
Aside from my word, the Spartans themselves have also given the film their cosign.
“There was a lot of laughter, a lot of joy, a lot of making fun of each other. All good reviews on their end.” said Poneman. “It’s obviously nerve wrecking showing a person your interpretation of them, but everyone seems happy with the final product.”
‘Shot in the Dark’ is a film I’d recommend, specifically for the people of Chicago, due mostly in part because it was made by us, for us.
Follow We Are Regal Radio on Twitter @regalradio1 and on Facebook under We Are Regal Radio; Justin Dukes is a Chicago-based sports writer, follow him on Twitter @1kingzdream