Steve James

One of America’s most acclaimed documentary directors, Steve’s first film, Hoop Dreams, is the story of two inner city Chicago teens striving to make it out of their neighborhoods and to the NBA. The film won every major critics’ award as well as the Audience Award at the Sundance Film Festival, Peabody, and Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award, awards from the Directors Guild of America, MTV Movie Award’s “Best New Filmmaker” honor and hundreds of other awards and accolades, making it the most awarded film of the year. Recently, Hoop Dreams was selected for the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry, signifying the film’s enduring importance to American film history.

Steve’s latest unscripted feature, A Compassionate Spy, which tells the complex tale of the Manhattan Project’s Ted Hall, world premiered at the 2022 Venice Film Festival before continuing its journey to festivals like Telluride and opening Chicago International Film Fest.

Steve’s documentary, Stevie, won major festival awards at Sundance, Amsterdam, Yamagata, and Philadelphia, and was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award. Next up for Steve as an executive producer, story director, and co-editor was the PBS series, The New Americans, which won two Chicago International Television Festival Golden Hugos, and the prestigious International Documentary Association Award for Best Limited Series for Television. Steve’s feature documentary, Reel Paradise, was his fourth film to premiere at Sundance. A prolific documentarian, Steve’s next projects included:

The War Tapes, a documentary comprised of video footage shot by American soldiers in Iraq that he produced and edited. The film won the top prize at both the Tribeca and the inaugural BritDoc Film Festivals.

At the Death House Door was next and won the top prize at the Atlanta Film Festival, the Inspiration Award at the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival, and aired on IFC-TV. The film was Steve’s fourth to be short-listed for the Academy Award.

Steve’s No Crossover: The Trial of Allen Iverson had its world premiere at the SXSW Film Festival and aired as part of ESPN Films’ International Documentary Association award-winning series 30 for 30. The film was selected for the IDOCS International Documentary Forum in Beijing and also played at the Cleveland, Full Frame, Dallas, Nashville and Atlanta film festivals, among others, as well as earning James the Best Director award at the Midwest Film Awards. No Crossover was honored as a selection by the U.S. Department of State for the American Documentary Showcase.

The Interrupters, marking a return to some of the same Chicago neighborhoods featured in Hoop Dreams. Yet another to premiere at Sundance, Steve’s film had an outstanding run on the festival circuit, winning a dozen awards including the grand jury prizes at the Sheffield Film Festival, Miami Film Festival, and Minneapolis Film Festival. It won both the IndieWire and Village Voice’s national critics polls as the best documentary of the year and was listed on over 60 “Best Films of the Year” lists including Time, The New Yorker, The Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, and LA Times among others. Steve won the two top prizes at the Cinema Eye Honors – “Nonfiction Feature Filmmaking” & “Best Direction” – and was nominated for the DGA Award (his third DGA nomination). The Interrupters also won the Independent Spirit Award, Emmy, and the duPont-Columbia Journalism Award.

Life Itself, about the late film critic Roger Ebert, was another to premiere at the Sundance Film Festival. It was named the best documentary of the year by over a dozen critics’ associations and received the Golden Tomato Award from as the best-reviewed documentary of the year. It also was awarded best documentary by The Critic’s Choice Awards, The National Board of Review, and The Producers Guild of America.

Abacus: Small Enough to Jail, Steve’s most recent feature documentary, is a 2018 Oscar-nominated film about the Chinese immigrant Sung family, owners of Abacus Federal Savings of Chinatown, New York. They were accused of mortgage fraud in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis and became the only U.S. bank to face criminal charges. The film is a warm and heartfelt look at the close-knit family facing overwhelming adversity and also provides an honest perspective on economic equality and minority-group advancement. Abacus has premiered at numerous film festivals; Hong Kong International Film Festival, New York Film Festival, and Toronto International Film Festival just to name a few, and released theatrically along with its world television debut on Frontline PBS.

The 10-part docu-series, America to Me, aired on Starz to critical and popular acclaim after its premiere at Sundance 2018. The limited series explores America’s charged state of race, culture, and education with an intimate look into one of Chicago’s most progressive and diverse public schools, located in suburban Oak Park. Production was a year-long immersion, which gives the series unprecedented depth and scope.

Steve’s next docu-series, City So Real, a fascinating and complex portrait of contemporary Chicago delivering a deep, multifaceted look into the soul of a quintessentially American city, set against the backdrop of its history-making 2019 mayoral election, world-premiered at Sundance 2020, was acquired by NatGeo in Fall 2020 and is currently streaming on Hulu, was recently honored with two 2021 Primetime Emmy nominations for Outstanding Documentary or Nonfiction Series, and Outstanding Cinematography for a Nonfiction Program.

Amidst Steve’s documentary work, he has also directed the dramatic features that premiered at Sundance, Passing Glory and Joe and Max that was nominated for an ESPN Espy Award.

The same empathetic storytelling, authenticity and optimism in Steve’s Oscar- and Emmy-nominated features translate to his commercials and branded including his moving documentary short “Ghetto Film School” for Google+, “Chicago Stories” for the US Olympic Committee, Bank of America, Ford, and Visa.