"Fuck ball," coach Louis Adams tells his team at the start of Dustin Nakao Haider's powerful documentary Shot in the Dark. "We're not talking about basketball." Rightly so: One of his teen players has just been shot at a party days before a big game.
The doc chronicles a year in the life of a high school basketball team on Chicago's West Side. There, Coach Lou carries an untenable load of stress as the de facto father figure and mentor for many young men. Rising star Tyquone Greer compares growing up in gang territory to quicksand -- once you're caught, "it's hard to get out." One of his friends and teammates, Marquise Pryor, knows this well. The first time we hear Pryor's voice, he's calling Greer from jail after getting caught with a gun on a rival gang's turf.
From doctors appointments and jail visits to neighborhood parties and tear-stained farewells, Nakao Haider's ace camera team -- especially Benjamin Vogel -- have significant access to Lou and the team. (It may help that Dwyane Wade and Chance the Rapper are among the doc's executive producers.)
Riveting game clips round out the doc without overtaking its focus. This isn't some feel-good documentary about glory on the court. It's about survival. Shot in the Dark does well to remember that sobering fact throughout its lean run time. Everyone here is fighting for their lives, passing by the memorials of dear friends and trying to get out of the neighborhood. It's a vital, intimate snapshot of a handful of people who have been touched by gun and gang violence.