Kartemquin is sad to learn of the passing of Earl Smith, who was featured in our 1994 film Hoop Dreams.
An insurance executive who on weekends acted as a volunteer basketball talent scout for local high schools, "Big Earl" was one of the first people followed by the filmmakers as they began the project, and is one of the first people you see on screen. He was responsible for spotting the young Arthur Agee on a west Chicago court, memorably stating, "I will bet you a steak dinner that in four years you will be hearing from him." Arthur became the focus of the film, and due to Earl guiding his family to send Arthur to St. Joseph's High School, he and the filmmakers also met William Gates. The result was a film that is now recognized as one of the greatest documentaries ever made. We are forever grateful to Earl Smith for being part of the Hoop Dreams legacy.
"It's so sad to hear of "Big Earl's" passing. He was a great, caring teddy bear of a guy and quite a storyteller. I'll never forget driving around the streets of Chicago with him as he told us stories and talked hoops. He knew the city courts like the back of his hand. In a way, the film as it came to be, would never have happened without Big Earl. He discovered Arthur and that was the beginning of a great adventure for us as filmmakers. Big Earl always like to say that someday we'd all be sitting around a pool in LA, living the life after Hoop Dreams. That never happened, but we all went uptown together because of him."
– Steve James
"Earl was a doorway into a world that we would have more than likely never seen. Earl trusted us. He guided us through those early days of the film. He was also a man from another era of sports. He was trying to actually help kids without receiving financial gain. In the later days of the film he would talk to us about the changing nature of the basketball world around us. Earl was so pivotal in our adventure. I will never forget the moment he reappeared as Arthur was at Marshall. It was then that I had the rush of knowing that the film had jumped to a whole other level. It is rare to ever feel that way on a film. That organic bookend just because we put in the time and we're there. I like all of the Hoop Dreams family will miss Earl greatly. RIP EARL SMITH."
– With love, Peter Gilbert
With a noted tradition of nurturing emerging talent and acting as a leading voice for independent media, Kartemquin is building on more than 50 years of history as Chicago’s documentary powerhouse.
Kartemquin is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization. Guidestar
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