ESPN Films: Unguarded
Award-winning filmmaker Jonathan Hock has mastered the art of telling stories about the struggles and triumphs of American hometown heroes. Chris Herren of Fall River, Mass., was a high school basketball standout who battled the pressures of making it big from an early age. After dropping out of Boston College, Chris landed on Jerry Tarkanian's notorious Fresno State team, where players were likely to be found on both police blotters and All-American lists. Chris failed drug tests at BC and Fresno State, but he was so talented that he was drafted into the NBA anyway, ending up with the Boston Celtics. But at the moment he was realizing his childhood dream of becoming a star for the home team, Chris was falling in a 10-year-long spiral of addiction. He bounced from team to team, country to country. Ultimately, Chris, the youngest and most talented of three generations of local heroes, has found redemption and personal fulfillment through the game, but only after it led him literally around the world, down a path of alcohol and drug addiction that nearly killed him.
MEET THE DIRECTOR
Jonathan Hock is an eight-time Emmy Award-winning producer, director, writer and editor. Over the course of his 25 years in television and film, Hock's hundreds of credits have ranged from prime-time network programming to independent fiction and nonfiction film. In November 2010, Hock's "The Best That Never Was" premiered to wide acclaim as one of ESPN's Peabody Award-winning "30 for 30" documentaries. Hock's story helped to turn a largely forgotten football player named Marcus Dupree into the No. 2 Twitter trend on the planet.
Hock wrote and directed the feature-length documentary "The Lost Son of Havana," filmed on location in Cuba. Executive produced by the Farrelly brothers, "Lost Son" premiered at the 2009 Tribeca Film Festival and later received an Emmy nomination for Best Sports Documentary. Among Hock's other feature-length documentary films, "Through the Fire" earned multiple Best Documentary awards at major film festivals during 2005 and was distributed nationally in theaters in 2006. "The Streak," co-produced with Kelly Ripa and Mark Consuelos' Milojo Productions, was nominated for an Emmy as Best Sports Documentary in 2008. Other credits include "Michael Jordan To The Max," an internationally distributed IMAX film that Hock wrote and edited. "MJ to the Max" grossed nearly $20,000,000 worldwide.
For television, Hock created and directed ESPN's award-winning "Streetball," which was the longest-running sports reality series. Hock also produced and directed an award-winning series called "Umlando: Through My Father's Eyes," starring Hugh and Sal Masekela, filmed on location in South Africa, which explored the country's history and its rural music and dance traditions.
Hock recently directed and wrote "Off the Rez," a feature-length documentary about a Native American family that leaves the reservation to pursue the American Dream. Its world premiere was at the 2011 Tribeca Film Festival.
He served as an executive producer of "Rising -- Rebuilding Ground Zero," a documentary series about the design and construction of the new World Trade Center, for Discovery and Dreamworks, with executive producer Steven Spielberg.
Hock founded The Reel People Film Project, a program of film workshops for at-risk youth in New York City. It was during one of these workshops, in 1995, that Hock met a 15-year-old student named Alastair Christopher from the Farragut housing projects in Brooklyn. Christopher, now 31 years old, was Hock's award-winning DP on "Through the Fire," "The Lost Son of Havana," "Umlando," "The Best That Never Was" and "Unguarded." Hock lives outside New York City with his wife, Lynn, and sons Eddie, 12, and Joseph, 6.
"Unguarded," airs Nov. 1 at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN.
It's the way of most sports stories to show how a life's meaning can be found on the athletic field, how dedication to the game can provide redemption and honor. But sometimes talent is a mixed blessing, and the measure of an individual ultimately can't be taken by wins and losses.
Chris Herren came from the city of Fall River, Mass., a faded textile town where personal loyalty and a tradition of high school basketball championships had come to fill the void left by the abandoned mills in every neighborhood. Chris' brother Mike had led Fall River's Durfee High School to two state titles, and became the only player other than Patrick Ewing to ever make all-state in Massachusetts three years running -- Chris would be the third. Like every local hero before him, Mike's dreams began and ended with winning at Durfee. But Chris was supposed to be different. His talent was beyond anything Fall River had ever seen; he was the chosen one, and on his shoulders fell the hopes of his family, his friends and his entire city.
If Chris' life had gone according to script, this is where the music swells, he rises to claim his destiny as an NBA All-Star and redeems all the empty days and nights of forgotten Fall River. Indeed, Chris did become a big-time college star and did make it to the NBA. But not before he fell into an abyss of alcohol and drug addiction, a decade-long nightmare in which he would lose everything that ever mattered to him.
But the story of Chris Herren is the story of hope. While we were filming, Chris marked his third anniversary of sobriety. He has reclaimed his family and the love and respect of the community. Ultimately, it was only after Chris lost the game that was supposed to be his salvation that he found his life's true meaning. Every day may still be a struggle, and he may never be able to claim the kind of final victory that basketball would have provided, but real life isn't always like that. For most of us, it is a daily struggle. Self-respect and the love of family are the greatest rewards we can claim. And that can be much harder to achieve than hitting the big shot or winning the big game.
I'd like to thank Chris and his family for allowing us to tell their story. For 10 years, it was a nightmare, and because the final message is one of hope, they allowed us into the darkest places we could travel with them, with a rawness and an openness rarely offered. Chris' philosophy is that you have to give things to get things in life, and my hope is that by telling his story, together we can give hope to those still in life's dark places, and inspiration to the rest of us as we pursue our own lives' great gifts, whatever they may be. -- Jonathan Hock
-- ESPN2: 7 a.m.
SATURDAY, NOV. 5