On The Rebound: Hooked

posted November 05, 2004 12:00:00 AM CST | 0 comments

Mike Skolnik and his partner William ONeill gave a down on his luck street basketball legend, Hook Mitchell an incredible opportunity.

At 5'9", Demetrius "Hook" Mitchell built his legendary street status by jumping over the top of a Volkswagon and slam dunking a basketball. As NBA superstar Jason Kidd puts it, "he could jump over a building." Gary Payton, another NBA superstar and childhood friend asserts, "he was better than me, he was better than Jason (Kidd), Antonio (Davis), he was better than everybody."

But while Hook's childhood friends, Gary Payton, Jason Kidd, Antonio Davis, Brian Shaw, J.R. Rider and Greg Foster all ended up playing basketball in the NBA, Hook ended up incarcerated.

From the drug and crime infested streets of West Oakland to the California Men's Penal Colony, Hook made all the wrong choices.

The story of how "Hook" wound up incarcerated, while the buddies he grew up with skyrocketed to superstardom with multi-million dollar salaries, is told in this poignant tale of a life gone wrong.

"Hook" Mitchell is the greatest basketball player to never make it to the NBA.

How did you become interested in the life story of Hook Mitchell?
My partner, William O'Neill, and I were talking about doing a project about basketball in prison. We thought that basketball on the street was the ultimate respect game, so it most definitely must be in prison. When we were doing research, we came across an article about Hook...It was a small byline in the Oakland Tribune that basically said, "ex-playground legend arrested for robbing a blockbuster." We knew we had to tell this story. Then when we found out how good he was and how all of these current NBA players who hyping him up as the best player never to make it to the NBA, we had no choice.

What was Hook's reaction when you presented him with the proposition?
I got a phone call from him, after writing him a letter in prison. It was a cold, snowy afternoon in New York. I was sitting in my office and boom, the phone rang. We spoke for 15 minutes (the alloted time we were given by the authorities) and he was very hesitant about participating in a film about his life. After writing letters and talking on the telephone for over 6 months, he committed to doing it. Whenever we make films, we try our hardest to give as much respect to the people who we are portraying. We would not go out there and make a film about Hook if he was not cool with it.

Are you a big basketball fan? And if so, how did that contribute to the piece?
Both Will and I are huge basketball fans. We both grew up Knick fans, during the Bulls years...tough as those were. It definitely contributed to making this film and the reasoning for making this film. As fans, we were never ever able to play basketball at a very high level (past high school), so this film was our payback to the sport, because it had given us so much growing up as best friends. I still remember battling Will in the brick cold afternoons in the winter on his hoop in his back yard. We would watch the Georgetown/Syracuse game and then go in the backyard and he was Alonzo Mourning and I was Billy Owens....And the fact that the NBA has embraced our film is so beautiful. To feel for a moment that we are part of the NBA family is something very special.

Tell me about some of the difficulties that you faced while making this documentary?
One of the biggest difficulties in making this film was access to the prisons that Hook was in. As with any film shot in a real prison, it is always difficult. However, the Department of Corrections of the State of California was amazing to work with once they understood what we were trying to do. Then of course, once you get into a real prison yard, it is always difficult, because you are thinking of ten thousand things, while trying to make a movie. As a person who has never served time in prison, every time I go into a prison it is always a fascinating experience.

Did you foresee the positive attention youve received from the film?
We never thought we would get this type of attention for this small little film. I mean, Mike, I saw your film "Big Wigs" in Toronto and I thought that film was just as hot as Hooked. So, you just never knew. All I can say is that we are extremely happy that Hook's story is finally being told and that millions of people across the world now know Hook Mitchell. This is a man who has struggled for much of his love and it is now great to see him shine.

What are your future plans as well as Hook's?
I am working on a number of new projects, documentaries and features. I just finished co-directing my first feature with Lori Silverbush, called On the Outs, which premiered at the 2004 Toronto International Film Festival. I am off to Haiti with Wyclef this weekend to start a new documentary with Wyclef and his cousin, Jerry Wonder.


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