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LeBron James' ‘Decision’ looms large at Roxbury International Film Festival

An image from the documentary 'Losing LeBron'
An image from the documentary 'Losing LeBron'
'Losing LeBon'/Nicole Prowell Hart

The Roxbury International Film Festival begins tonight in Boston, Massachusetts with the screening of “Things Never Said,” a film about a woman who attempts to escape her personal pains and hardships through the power of spoken word poetry.

The festival will run from June 27-30, and by the end of the festival’s 15th year in existence, dozens of hardworking filmmakers will see their projects screened in front of thousands of excited moviegoers.

Two such filmmakers are Nicole Prowell Hart and Allyson Sherlock. Nicole and Allyson are both Emerson College graduates who have family ties to Cleveland and Akron, Ohio.

So, it only made sense that a LeBron James documentary centered on James’ decision to leave Cleveland would naturally be born, right?

Well, like anything in film, it’s a little more complicated than that.

On Sunday, the Roxbury International Film Festival will screen “Losing LeBron,” a movie Hart and Sherlock invested years (and over 200 hours worth of footage) to create.

I got a chance to speak with Nicole about the origins of “Losing LeBron,” how she raised $10,000 to finance the film, and what made her opt to tell the atypical story of LeBron’s James’ “Decision”—namely, the impact his departure left on a loyal sports city that’s been craving a championship since 1964.

How did you get interested in this project?

This film has been a 3-year labor of love for me, as well as for my co-director, Allyson Sherlock.

We began this film as a class assignment during our MFA program in the fall of 2010 at Emerson College. Our assignment was to pitch our dream movie, if we had a "sky's the limit" budget. Allyson and I both have family the Cleveland [and] Akron area, so we were very familiar with Cleveland and how important LeBron James was to the people of Cleveland.

We knew we wanted to examine LeBron's "Decision" and how it impacted the people of Cleveland, but also to use that as a lens for a deeper discussion on the negative image that Cleveland has received by the national media over the years.

We pitched the project in class as a "Roger and Me" meets "Hoop Dreams" documentary, and our professor came up to us at the end of class and said, "You girls need to go make this film." It took about a month of her persuasiveness before we finally decided to go for it!

We soon launched a Kickstarter campaign, and raised $10,000. We gained additional funding through actress Maria Menounos (an Emerson alumna and Medford native). Maria is a huge basketball fan and she loved the idea of two women making a film about LeBron James.

We knew we wanted to capture Cleveland's first NBA season without LeBron, so we set out to Cleveland in December 2010 and filmed on and off through June 2011. We had 220 hours of footage, and Allyson was incredible and sat with it day in and day out, editing for a solid year.

What are you hoping to achieve with the film? What are you hoping viewers will get out of it?

When we started out, we wanted to achieve two things: to let Cleveland sports fans share their stories of what LeBron's departure meant to then and the city, and what it means to be a CleveIander.

Our goal was really to examine why Cleveland sports were so important to its residents, and to tie it back into this negative stereotype that Cleveland has had since the 60s. Growing up, I always heard that Cleveland was this terrible place, but then I went there and thought it was great. Personally, I love Cleveland and think it's a beautiful city. It has its issues, just like any other city does, but there are hundreds of hidden gems there to discover. The people are friendly, and hard working, and they're passionate about dispelling any myths that have been set about their city.

We hope that when people see the film, they're able to identify with what their own hometowns mean to them. And why do sports matter so much to cities that have struggled?

It's been a surreal experience to see the film form a life of its own over time. With LeBron James just capturing his second NBA title, the film continues the conversation of what sports mean to cities and their residents.

What did you learn during the process of making the film?

We had countless serendipitous moments while making the film--it was almost as if there were documentary gods looking down on us, guiding us along!

We'd randomly meet people on the street or on Twitter, and they ended up becoming some of the most important characters in our film. I was filming at the last Cavs/Heat game of the season, and all the main people from our film just happened to be going to that game. Moments like that made us think that we were meant to make this film!

I think one of the biggest challenges to us was the social media aspect. It's really become crucial to filmmaking-- you have to have a website with an active blog, a Facebook page, a Twitter account... it's pretty much a full-time job in addition to making the film!

But it's also the way to get the word out and to get audiences to engage in your film. Our Kickstarter campaign was also very challenging and extremely nerve-wracking, but once it ended, we were completely overwhelmed by the outpouring of support from our friends, family members, and total strangers!

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You can catch Nicole and Allyson’s documentary “Losing LeBron” on Sunday, June 30 at 1 pm. The film will be screened at the Museum of Fine Arts’ Alfond Auditorium. Tickets can be purchased online or at the door.

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