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Uptown in the News  

March 28, 2004
Chicago Tribune Magazine
Shoestring Cinema
His latest documentary will air in prime time Monday, but after 20 years the maker of 'Hoop Dreams' still has to hustle for funding
By Noah Isackson

One of the most compelling scenes in the documentary "The New Americans" takes place in the Uptown apartment of the Nwidor family, Nigerian refugees who have been in America for only a few months. The family has just returned from a nearby health clinic, where Ngozi Nwidor has been diagnosed as a tuberculosis carrier and her husband, Israel, was found to have a serious heart condition. Israel consoles his wife, first with whispers and silly jokes and then a pep talk. The camera lingers on the couple as her mood changes, lightening just enough so Ngozi wipes away her tears and smiles. Steve James crouches with a camera on his shoulder just a few feet away, and in a gentle voice he asks Ngozi how her husband manages to make her smile. At this point, James has been filming the Nwidor family for two years, and his voice is familiar, unintrusive. "I don't know," she answers. "Maybe that is the way God created him."

Two more years would pass before James finished filming his portion of "The New Americans," an adventure that took his crew from an African refugee camp to Chicago, then back to Africa to film the Nwidors' home village. Another two years would pass before James and colleagues at Chicago's Kartemquin Films would finish editing its 1,100 hours of footage and weave it into the most ambitious project of his 20-year career, which includes the wildly successful "Hoop Dreams" and critically acclaimed "Stevie."

To view the entire article for a fee, please visit the Chicago Tribune website at www.chicagotribune.com.

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