DESPITE its failure to win an Oscar, American documentary Hoop Dreams, is critics' choice for this year's Hong Kong international film festival. It is a tale of two inner-city Chicago teenagers who hope to make it into the NBA (National Basketball Association). Many critics believe that the superbly edited Hoop, which grossed US$6.5 million (about $50 million) last year, is too poignant a social story to ignore. Three film-makers, Steve James, Frederick Marx and Peter Gilbert, followed African-American fourth-graders William Gates and Arthur Agee in their quest for sports fame between 1987 and 1991. The ghetto kids are spotted in the playgrounds of Chicago and are given basketball scholarships to the white-dominated St Joseph's, where superstar Isiah Thomas is an alumnus. Gates is even tipped to be the next Isiah Thomas. But NBA glory has to be negotiated with urban poverty and the social problems that so often threaten to disintegrate the ghetto families. Agee quits St Joseph's with a debt when his father is laid off. Never academically inclined, he joins a black school in the neighbourhood and works in a pizza restaurant. The charming Gates appears more promising but soon loses his focus under pressure. 'Basketball has become more a job than a sport,' he says. The families of Agee and Gates are on welfare. As Gates puts it: 'Basketball is my ticket out of the ghetto.' Though a straightforward documentary study on disadvantaged children's struggle against marginality, Hoop makes for natural, heart-moving, yet real-life drama. Hoop Dreams will be shown on Thursday at 9 pm and Sunday at 2.30 pm in the City Hall Theatre. Tickets at $42 (half-price for students) are available at Urbtix outlets.