A sit down with the director of Survive and Advance, a documentary celebrating Jimmy Valvano.
SLAM: The Jimmy V ESPY speech is one of those moments that’s bigger than sport. Were you concerned with how you would frame that moment in the film?
JH: We were for a couple of reasons, but the interesting thing is when we started we figured that would be sort of the climax of the film. But what we discovered was that the speech V gave at Reynolds Coliseum, a couple of weeks before the ESPY speech. Because of a few things, everything that had gone down with the scandals at NC State, that was his first time back in Reynolds. And because all the players who we’d gotten to know so well in the film, were there, it was the last time they saw their coach. There’s so much emotion in that scene, actually becomes the emotional climax in the film. ESPN showed the ESPY speech so much that they were concerned that if we relied too much on it; it would not feel fresh and new to the audience. So what we had to do was strike that balance of showing enough if it to show why it was such a significant moment, and there was even talk to not include it all because everybody has seen it. Dick Vitale and Coach Krzyzewski, the two of them tell stories to the lead up of the ESPY’s and how Coach V didn’t want to go, because he was feeling so sick. On the airplane flying up from Raleigh, Coach V was sick the whole ride, and everyone sees the shot of him being helped up on the stage by Coach K and Vitale. To hear those personal, private details, made that speech to me that much more meaningful and fresh and heroic and it made it so that we couldn’t afford to leave it out of the film.
SLAM: You really captured the compassion Coach Krzyzewski had for Valvano.
JH: That was an incredible interview, but when he talks about being in the hospital room together, and the idea of the V Foundation being formed there, I thought it humanized them both. Coach K’s a legend of legends and for him to have been willing to share his personal private memories and emotions. He was at Jimmy V’s side when he passed away and for him to talk to us about that was pretty deep.
SLAM: The working title for the film was When March Went Mad, but Survive and Advance is much more fitting, from a basketball perspective and also from a life and loss standpoint. Did that have a play in it with the name change?
JH: That was it and it was actually something Coach K said in his interview, where he said, “It’s great that Jimmy V’s catchphrase was ‘survive and advance,’ because he found a way even though cancer claimed his life, he found a way to survive and advance by helping so many people live, and live longer through the work of the V Foundation.” That motto worked for basketball for him and worked for life and that’s really the right title for something about Jim Valvano.
SLAM: What was the biggest challenge in making this movie?
JH: The biggest challenge in making the film was finding the balance between coach Valvano’s life, the story of the games themselves and the personal and emotional stories of Whit, Sidney, Thurl, Terry and the other guys on the team. There are so many amazing basketball issues and highlights to relive and then there are so many life issues and life and death issues. Meaning of life type issues and how to strike the balance and to still also be a great basketball movie and also a great life story and life movie. Finding that balance takes a lot work, it doesn’t happen easily, it takes a lot of work and a lot of time. There were a lot of days and months in the cutting room making it happen.
SLAM: You’ve made great basketball films with Unguarded and Royce White’s Draft Day short. Aside from storyline, what makes Survive and Advance different?
JH: What makes Survive and Advance different is it’s the moment that Sports Illustrated picked as the greatest college moment in the 20th century. Here’s a moment where everybody, at least if you were a teenager by that point, remembers where they were when that game happened because it was a miracle. This is a very different type of story, in Royce White and Chris Herren, they don’t really have expectations for these stories, they don’t know what they’re going to see. Here, you know what you’re going to see, you’re going to see Whit throw up the ball from 30 feet away, and Lorenzo going up and dunking it and Jimmy V running around the floor. You know that they win in the most spectacular fashion imaginable, so this is a totally different challenge as a filmmaker, because you’re dealing with a story that everybody knows, and you have to tell it in a way that is fresh and compelling and new. That’s the big difference right there.
SLAM: How does the ’83 Wolfpack run rank to you in terms of college basketball moments?
JH: It’s number one. There will never be a moment to surpass it. There was not March Madness before this Tournament. There was Magic & Larry and Elvin Hayes against Alcindor in the Astrodome were great moments, but there was never a run, or a game, or a moment—the moment being Lorenzo’s dunk, the game being Houston, the run being the nine-game run, or at least the six games in the Tournament, (the three games in the ACC Tournament were all amazing). This was that moment that defined March Madness, that any team in the Tournament could win the Tournament. You can’t make a top-10 list of the greatest players in college basketball history without counting Hakeem, without counting Jordan, without counting Ralph and Clyde. These guys were not only NBA Top 50 or Hall of Famers, you had Ewing, you had Mullin, Hall of Famers all over the place in college basketball and that will never happen again. You may have an underdog team or a mid-major team go on a run, like Butler or something but they’re not beating teams like Virginia with Ralph Sampson, they’re not beating teams like UNLV that won 30 games with Sidney Green and they are not beating teams like Houston with Olajuwon and Drexler and everyone else they had. This can’t happen again, and yet that’s what the Tournament still means to people, and it’s because of NC State. You and I will live the rest of our lives and every March we’ll tune in and we’ll never see a team like this, and what it did in the field of teams like that, just can’t happen anymore.