Where do you draw that line between collector and obsessive compulsive? Though I don’t have a collector’s focus at the moment, I’ve certainly gone through my periods. Back in the VHS days, I spent way too much time recording every episode of Quantum Leap off of USA Network, painstakingly trying to get them on tape in their original airing order. Before that it was several years of baseball cards. And after that, it was a long run of trying to get every bit of Sandman-relate paraphernalia I could get my hands on. Eventually, most of my compulsive collecting tendencies ran their course and I moved on to something else. So I get it, big picture. But sneaker collecting, I don’t get. I can appreciate a good looking shoe, to a point, but buying sneakers and immediately locking them up in a vault, dropping eleven thousand dollars on a pair of kix, lining up outside of a store all night for sneakers … this I don’t get.
Or, I didn’t get it. But Sneakerheadz did exactly what a documentary like this should do, by showing me a little underculture I don’t understand and breaking it open for me.
“Sneakers have always been a reflection of who you wanna be, who you believe you are, where you come from.”
I’m not suddenly going to become a sneaker collector, but I get it. The documentary does this by giving a quick and dirty history of sneakers, and then diving in to one-two punch that made sneakers into something more than just athletic footwear, Air Jordans and Run DMC’s Adidas. Sneakers were suddenly a place where sports and hip-hop could blend together and make icons accessible to fans: “oh, it’s a piece of them I can take with me. I can come correct.” From there, things blew up in the States and Japan, and suddenly, sneakerheads had vaults full of shoes they never wore, while Nike and other companies fed into the increasing collector hysteria with limited released that served no purpose other than to drum up long release lines.
And then folks started getting killed for their sneakers. Sneakerheadz digs into the violence that built up around this world, topping out when one of the sneaker companies complains that “no one asks the president of GM to do something about carjacking.” Of course, it’s impossible to swallow that analogy when Nike has literal building full of people focused on creating limited editions and the demand that comes with them, while GM is just happy these days when anyone buys any of their cars. This is an interesting turn for a film that seems to just be about this niche world of collecting, and it’s a welcome turn that gives a surprising bit of substance to the appropriately short documentary. As one collector succinctly sums the whole thing up: “I’m just a guy who like sneakers a little more enthusiastically than you”
Sneakerheadz premiered at South by Southwest 2015.