Dunk or Die is an electrifying documentary about a man who dreamed of flying. Not literally flying, but flying on the hardwood floor of the basketball court to throw down creative and powerful dunks. From tough beginnings to international fame, director Nicolas de Virieu shows an inspiring profile of an impressive and motivated athlete that most people may never have heard of.
That athlete is Kadour Ziani, an Albanian man who grew up in a project of Saint-Dizier, France. Ziani had a tough life growing up. The project he grew up in was full of drugs, violence, and crime, some of which Ziani took part in. His life seemed to be heading down a dark path until Ziani discovered the NBA, particularly dunking. Watching guys like Michael Jordan and Dominique Wilkins throw down powerful, exciting dunks inspired Ziani to learn the art of dunking. Ziani eventually became obsessed with dunking, as he would practice as much as he could, progressively getting better and more explosive and getting the attention of locals and others around the country. Ziani eventually gets the attention of Slam Nation, a group of dunkers who would perform entertaining dunks around the globe. Ziani’s personality and intensity clash with his fellow dunkers and he must learn to change his ways if he wants to keep his dream of dunking alive.
Ziani is a captivating subject for a documentary. Growing up in the place that he did and the lifestyle that he did, had he not found his love and passion of dunking, it is possible he could be in prison or possibly never have made it out of Saint-Dizier alive. Dunk or Die plays like a classic inspirational sports movie as Ziani goes from an intense, angry, competitive man who came from nothing to becoming a globe-trotting sensation who learned to work with his teammates, find inner peace, and become an ambassador for dunking and the game of basketball
de Virieu does a great job with the construction of the film. The talking-head interviewees all have insight into Ziani as a person and his journey. He interviews people like his family and his teammates, but hearing Ziani tell his own story is where the movie shines. Hearing his first-hand experience is eye-opening and you really see his passion for what he does. He explains the art and the grace of dunking and how he used dunking as an escape to get his anger and frustrations out. Hearing Ziani’s story and listening to his growth in life and as a person is truly inspiring.
The archival footage di Virieu shows is extraordinary, spanning three decades and showing Ziani’s rise as a dunker and how his talent grew over the years. Ziani’s dunks are that of power, anger, and skill. Ziani flies through the air with ease, doing everything from 360-degree spins to jumping over teammates. di Virieu also shows the toll these dunks took on Ziani, showing the injuries and the rehab he had to go through to get back on the court and perform for his fans. And even if he was hurt, whether it be after a hard fall, a cut on his hand, or a sprain that almost turned into a break or a tear, Ziani wanted to keep dunking. He loved nothing more than dunking and would everything in his power to continue to do it, no matter how painful.
Despite the footage taking place in the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s, Dunk or Die is shot in black and white, which makes the film look gorgeous. But it also is a constant reminder of the struggle and the mindset of Ziani. He lived and still lives by a “dunk or die” mantra, a very black and white way of looking at life. Dunk or Die is a compelling look at a man’s obsession with a dream and what he did to accomplish it. It is a great sports documentary that will appeal to both basketball and non-basketball fans.
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