No Crossover: The Trial of Allen Iverson (Steve James). Whenever the great documentarian Steve James (Hoop Dreams, The New Americans) has a new doc, he shows it at SXSW, and it’s always one of the festival highlights for me. This year’s world-premiere screening of No Crossover: The Trial of Allen Iverson was no exception. The 90-minute doc was shot as part of ESPN’s “30 for 30” series (it will air on April 13), in which 30 directors each tell a story about an athlete “that really resonates for them personally,” as James put it at the screening. The films are about sports, but—at least in the ones he’s seen so far—always as “an avenue to something else.”
As told by James and his crew, Iverson’s story is a great American tragedy, a harrowing look into the gaping racial fault line that runs through America in general and Hampton, Virginia, in particular. The city is the filmmaker’s hometown as well as the ballplayer’s; James even played basketball there in high school, his father lettered there in three sports, and his mother still lives there. Without those strong roots in the community, he said at the screening, he could never have made this film—and even so, he had to work hard to get most of his subjects to talk to him, since they didn’t want to re-expose rifts they have worked hard to paper over. But in the end, he got a good sampling of the community on film, including people who coached or otherwise mentored Iverson, community leaders and lawyers who supported him after his arrest, reporters who covered the case, retired policemen and other community officials, and a few people who thought he got what he deserved. Almost all are frank and articulate about what they thought and felt about his arrest 17 years ago—and still do, just as strongly.