Through the Fire (2006)

photo_11_hiresI’m no sports fan. I find no interest in sports, and I really don’t watch it, but “Through the Fire” is not about sports. You don’t have to like sports to know how damn good this is. It’s typical to say such a thing, but as a man who hasn’t seen a full basketball game in eleven years, it says something about the sheer quality and excellence of “Through the Fire”, that it was able to grab a hold of me and keep me glued to the screen. It’s not an insider documentary, it’s not a new look at sports, and it is not an exploitative peek at a man who ruined himself. It’s simply a down to Earth story about a young man who worked for his dreams and achieved them.

“Through the Fire” is a wonderful, and exciting look in to a year in Sebastian Telfair’s life and struggle to make the NBA draft. Through this journey we discover not only him, but we also discover his family. His loyal mother, immensely loyal brothers, and just pure family love. These are brothers whom stick by one another and pour all their energy in to Sebastian to help him make the NBA draft. “Through the Fire” is an excellent inspirational documentary about how anyone can really rise above their surroundings if they work hard enough. Why Sebastian Telfair? Well, why not? He’s a legend in his home town (grew up in the same city as I), he’s smart, he’s charismatic, he’s humble even when literally everyone is pulling him aside saying it’s all about him, and he’s focused. Not to mention he has amazing skills on the basketball court.

The film, beautifully directed by Jonathan Hock, has an exuberance and energy about it that will take even those not fans of sports and bring them in to the story. Speaking as someone who qualifies as a non-fan, even I was engrossed in the basketball scenes. Telfair is utterly amazing on the court, and everyone around him is drawn in to him and he repays them for it. Celebrities appear at the games he plays in, and reel in their seats, nearly jumping in utter awe at his moves. And the director plays off of their reaction using the soundtrack and great camera shots to his advantage. He involves the crowd in to the scene of this young man and lets us connect with him. His brothers, one a basketball coach, one a basketball player who didn’t make the draft but went on to basketball in Greece yet poured his energy in to Sebastian, and, in a heart wrenching sub-plot, Sebastian’s youngest brother who worships the ground he walks on and hopes to become like him in the future.

And Hock doesn’t just hog all the spotlight on Telfair. Any hack would have focused on Sebastian and only Sebastian, but Hock explores his family, and the film never loses its charm, or appeal when it explores their lives. The question raised from beginning to end is can this guy who is intelligent, charming, charismatic, and talented keep the NBA from corrupting him and turning him in to another sports prima donna? You’re on constant edge wondering this, and you have no choice but to sit, watch, and wait to see if he excels, or becomes his own worst enemy. It also explores how one can set a path for themselves and by circumstances, or ones own zeal, can lose their focus and end up losing it all in an instant. Constantly, Hock introduces corporate elements as a factor that could spell doom for Telfair’s training and personality.

Sneaker companies, clothing companies, franchises all seek him out, and its his family element that must decide to keep his mind on the game or else it will all be in vain. Telfair looks like a great guy, he’s not full of himself but is never afraid to gloat, he’s humble, but he’s also proud, and Hock knows how to pinpoint this young man’s niche. But we also know he can be exploited, too, and we hope he doesn’t. And when it wants to be “Through the Fire” is also an exciting look at how the game is played, but through it all you wonder of Telfair’s fate, because Hock brings you close, and reminds us its not the rewards that matter, it’s the journey. “Through the Fire” is a film for anyone seeking hope and inspiration in their endeavors, and its an excellent documentary in the spirit of “Hoop Dreams” with an engrossing and exciting look at working for your goals and accomplishing them win or lose.