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The Independent Culture
4 FEW FILMS of recent years have been praised like Hoop Dreams, the documentary about two schoolboys trying to make it into professional basketball. So I went to see it with high hopes, nearly all of which were fulfilled. It is as gripping, moving, eye-opening and dramatic as the critics led us to expect. My one misgiving - again, not an original one - was that at 170 minutes it was a shade too long. But the rest of the audience didn't seem to think so - no one walked out, and the evening was conspicuous for its lack of coughing, squirming or other signs of restlessness. It was the perfect audience, except in one vital respect: it wasn't very big. The auditorium was barely a third full.

This was at the MGM Shaftesbury Avenue on Tuesday at 7.45pm. It was the only evening screening of Hoop Dreams in central London, and one of only two in the whole of Greater London - the other being the tiny third screen at the Clapham Picture House. In a city of more than 10 million, an outstanding film, in its third week of release, drew a total audience for the night of, at most, 300.

It's not hard to find an excuse not to see Hoop Dreams. It's a documentary, it doesn't have any big names, it's about a largely foreign sport, and if it's so good, why didn't it win an Oscar? (Answer: probably because it is so good.)

When Hoop Dreams came to the London Film Festival last year, it didn't have a British distributor. At the time, when the film was the talk of New York, this seemed like faint-heartedness. Now it looks like a fair reflection of the British cinema-going public, which, on this evidence, is dumb, and getting dumber.