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'Sneakerheadz': Going to extremes to get the freshest kicks

Sneakerheads size up the wares at a shoe convention. From the documentary
Sneakerheads size up the wares at a shoe convention. From the documentary "Sneakerheadz."
Courtesy of Friendly Films
Sneakerheads size up the wares at a shoe convention. From the documentary
MLB pitcher Jeremy Guthrie keeps his sneaker collection locked in a bank vault that he modeled after a vault from Fort Knox.
Courtesy of Friendly Films
Sneakerheads size up the wares at a shoe convention. From the documentary
A whole lot of Air Jordans, from the documentary "Sneakerheadz."
Courtesy of Friendly Films

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While some people might be waiting to see Kanye West at FYF Fest this weekend, others will be lining up in front of shoe stores all over the country for a different Kanye event — the release of the black Yeezy Boost 350s, the newest collaboration between Adidas and Kanye.

And it’s those fanatics, and the world of obsessive shoe collectors, who are the subject of “Sneakerheadz,” a new documentary that explores all aspects of sneaker culture. The doc covers its origins in rap music, its rise in the worlds of sports and fashion and the extreme — and sometimes violent — lengths people go to get the freshest kicks.

When Friendly joined us on the Frame, we asked him about the impact of the Internet on sneaker collecting, the thin line between collecting and hoarding, and the darker sides of sneaker culture that he explores in "Sneakerheadz."

Interview Highlights:

Broadly speaking, how has the Internet changed sneaker collecting?

It's a massive change — there's pre-Internet, and then there's post-Internet. We have many of these old-schoolers in the movie who would literally take a train from New York to Boston to try to get a pair of Converse that had a Boston Celtics logo on them.

As Frank the Butcher says in the movie, it was a contact sport — the only way you found out what was out there was by going to these little stores and rummaging through the basement, and that was part of the hunt. Then the Internet comes along and you can type in "Air Jordan 3" on eBay and a thousand entries will come up.

As you get more involved in shooting and more knowledgeable about the sneaker world, how did that influence the documentary that you were making? Did you end up making the movie you thought you were going to make?

I was very open to letting events influence and shape the movie, but I think that in the end I got the movie I wanted to make, which was really about the characters within the subculture. I was not passing judgment, I was not trying to make a larger point, but I was trying to say, "This subculture exists, it's populated by incredibly eccentric, passionate characters, and it connects the worlds of hip-hop, fashion, sport, and history."

The documentary's pretty light-hearted, but it takes a turn for the very serious about three-fourths of the way through, when you look at a couple things: people being trampled when new shoes are released, and then you show the cover of an issue of Sports Illustrated with the headline, "Your Sneakers or Your Life."

One of the things that I didn't really know about when I came to this subject was just how intense and violent the world can get. I know that we felt obligated to cover this, and initially we talked to a number of sneaker companies about coming aboard as a sponsor, and none of them would get involved because they knew we were going to touch on this.

I think it's really truly tragic, and the release pattern for these shoes is what leads to the violence. If you're not really familiar with this world, they'll sometimes release 1,000 pairs of shoes across the country, and they'll sell out in one second. So people know they can try to pick up a pair of shoes for $200 and re-sell them the same day for as much as $1,000, and that's what drives the frenzy.

You say you went into this film a little agnostic, but when you start thinking about and seeing the violence that these release patterns cause, do you start changing your mind about whether or not the shoe companies are in some way complicit?

Yeah, that's a central issue in the movie, and we save it for the back end, as you point out, because once you get to that point in the documentary, you can't go back to the frivolous thing of, Oh, look at all these cool kicks and how beautifully they're lit.

I just don't believe that there should be live releases anymore, and I think everything should be done digitally and you should have to go online and purchase your kicks. It's the live releases that cause the problems, and the reason that the companies love them is that they are loss-leaders — they help sell the rest of the line.

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