In 1995, director Steve James (of 'Hoop Dreams') returned to rural Southern Illinois to reconnect with Stevie Fielding, a troubled young boy to whom he had been an "Advocate Big Brother" ten years earlier.
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He began a film, a search, to discover not only what had happened to Stevie over the past ten years but to understand the forces that had shaped his entire life. Part way through the filming, Stevie is arrested and charged with a serious crime that tears his family apart. What was to be a modest profile turns into a intimate four and half year chronicle of Stevie, his broken family, the criminal justice system and the filmmaker himself, as they all struggle with what Stevie has done and who he has become.Written by
As a documentarian, Steve James has a lot to learn, especially about editing. STEVIE rings in at more than two and a half hours but should have been cut to 90 minutes or less. In any film, every scene needs to count, to have a narrative purpose, and a movie needs to have some definite dramatic shape and narrative drive to hold its audience and justify its running time. STEVIE doesn't exhibit any of these qualities. In fact, it's an overlong, meandering mess that soon becomes a very tedious viewing experience. Bad form is one thing but bad faith is something else entirely. To be blunt, the implicit class politics of this film really suck. Steve James says he is making a film about Stephen Fielding out of a sense of guilt for not having kept up with Fielding in the decade since serving as Fielding's Big Brother. Maybe the guilt is real but the film smacks of a kind of pitying bourgeois condescension toward "white trash" life that conceals what is at base a lurid, voyeuristic fascination with the awful ignorance, dysfunction, and backwardness of the rural poor that get educated yuppies morally exercised but also affords them an exhiliarating sense of their own superiority. Much of middle America is a wasteland of bigotry, violence, ignorance, susperstition, and sloth. The film's implicit message? Aren't we glad we're not them...
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