“6 Questions for Doug Harris” 
Online interview with Doug Harris

by Jeff Hillard
March 2008


Doug Harris, one of the premier documentary filmmakers in the country, specializes in showing how basketball both influences and has been influenced by culture and history. But, here, in RED!’s first issue, we learn how Mr. Harris empowered a group of Bay Area youths in juvenile detention by putting them to work on the production of a film.

1. This is amazing and necessary to involve youths in this kind of creative project, especially youths in the county's juvenile detention center. How did the project come about?

Our nonprofit organization’s media division (AUP Media) was contracted to produce a departmental DVD presentation video for the Alameda County Probation Department in February 2007.  I thought that it would be special to include in the media services contract a program component that provided training for 10 teens residing at the probation department’s Camp Sweeney facility. 

2. What was it like for you to work with these youths?  Was it a far different project from your award-winning and celebrated basketball documentary films?

The teens that completed the two months of extensive media production training at Camp Sweeney were assembled into the production crew for the department’s DVD project.  So under my supervision and direction, the production team (the teens) got some valuable work experience in several phases of the film production.  The main areas of work they performed were high definition camera operation, set lighting, and audio.  By the end of production, the crew stepped in and actually took over all of the interviewing.

This project was very different from some of the documentaries that I have produced, because this is a project that will be used by the Alameda County’s chief probation officer and the department’s administration for orientation, training of new employees, government conference presentations, and video clips for the agency’s website.  So, including the teens that reside at the Camp Sweeney in this important DVD project has been really special to me as both an educator and media producer. 

3. How would you describe the youths’ response to the film project?

The teens responded very positively to the probation department’s DVD project.  I think one of the most important things was that they got an opportunity to learn in-depth about the inner-workings of the probation system that they are a part of.  Now I believe they all have a clearer understanding about the juvenile justice system from an analytical standpoint. The probation department’s response to the teens’ work ethic during the production was phenomenal.  The deputy chiefs, superintendents and administrators that we interviewed were highly impressed at the professionalism that all of the crew members (teens) displayed while working over the two month period.  I really can’t wait to see their response once all the post production editing is completed.  

4. Did you make any interesting discoveries as you went through the process of interviewing and filming?

The biggest discovery I received was learning about the complexity of the Alameda County Probation Department.  Our production covers segments on the department administration’s goals & objectives; the 4-year strategic plan, best practices and program innovations; the entire adult and juvenile services divisions; department policies and training; the new juvenile justice center and Camp Sweeney’s facility.

The enormous amount of detailed information I had to learn about the department, combined with the training of the teens detained at the camp facility, made this the most challenging media project that I have ever been involved in.  The toughest part of the project was the manner in which we had to navigate through the various bureaucratic channels within the department.  For me, that was the ultimate test in patience and how to properly work through protocol.  And the teens learned an important lesson about this area as well.  

5. How did your years of professional experience in shooting documentaries help you in working specifically with these youths?

Back in 1997, when we first established our organization’s Digital Technology Academy media training program, our first training and project was with a group of teens from the Alameda Probation Department’s Community Probation Program.  Over the years we produced a number of award winning community history documentaries in this same manner of using the teens as the production crew.  I would have to say that my experience in teaching disadvantaged and troubled teens helped me more with this project than anything.

Unless you can make a positive and sincere connection with these types of teens, you could never achieve the type of success that we achieved with this project.  The very first day of training I had the teens read an article that was written about my film BOUNCE: The Don Barksdale Story that was in the Los Angeles Times.  Then immediately after they read the article, I handed them a probation case letter from 1976 when I was caught up in the Alameda County Juvenile Probation system. My purpose for sharing the contrasting written documents was to show the group that at one time early in my life I was one of them.  And by making the right choices in life everyone can achieve their goals and dreams.  From that day on, we’ve all had a very special bond that reaches far beyond training and digital video production.

6. Is the project something that will be identified just with the Bay Area or this country, or are there plans to use the project as a kind of model for other communities or even states that might be interested in such a project?

Each year, Athletes United for Peace (AUP) Media conducts a number of different television and video projects in conjunction with various local government agencies, nonprofit organizations and educational institutions.  This project with the Alameda County Probation Department is something that has never been done before.  Although using teens to work on broadcast quality media productions is something new to them, this is one of many similar projects that Athletes United for Peace has facilitated over AUP Media’s ten years of existence.

A lot of times people pigeon-hole our organization into this sort of sports identity, and we pride ourselves on offering young people more than just sports programs.  Our biggest success as a nonprofit organization has been our ability to lure young people in using sports, and then working with them to channel their interests into other areas that help enhance their overall personal development and growth.  People interested in viewing QuickTime video clips of our organization programs and media work are invited to log onto    


Jennifer Williams

Doug Harris


Read news stories about Doug Harris' documentary films
"The Don Barksdale Story" and “Basketball in the Barrio.”

Berkeley Filmmaker Receives Acclaim - March 2008

Doug Harris Wins 2008 Beacon Award - June 2008

“Basketball in the Barrio” to Screen at Inaugural U.S. Sports Films Festival - Sept 2008