The star and director at the February world premiere of the documentary Giannis: The Marvelous Journey.

Photo and video stills: Courtesy of Kristen Lappas/Words + Pictures

Documenting Giannis Antetokounmpo

In her new film, Kristen Lappas ’09 captures the life of one of the most famous athletes in the world. Here’s how she did it.

Kristen Lappas ’09 is the director of a thrilling new Amazon Prime documentary about one of the world’s biggest basketball stars. Giannis: The Marvelous Journey, which began streaming in February, tracks the journey of Milwaukee Bucks superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo from an undocumented Nigerian immigrant in Greece to a two-time NBA MVP. Lappas had plenty to draw on from her own life while making the documentary. Her father, Steve, was a college basketball coach for seventeen years (including nine at Villanova back when the school was battling BC in the Big East), and both sides of her family are from Greece. It all informed her sensitive portrait of Antetokounmpo, who joined the league while still a teenager in 2013 and today is one of its biggest names.

“In my career, with the stories I've chosen to tell, sports are the entry point to talk about something much bigger that’s more of a universal story or theme,” said Lappas, who is a director at the production company Words + Pictures. “For Giannis, it’s the ultimate immigrant story, which I loved so much.”

We asked Lappas to select four important scenes from her documentary and walk us through how she chose to direct them.


On a scene re-created in an internet cafe

Overhead view of actors playing the four brothers watching basketball on a computer screen in an internet cafe.

"I’m generally not a fan of re-creations, but his childhood was not well documented. So we had to re-create some scenes. We shot all of them in the original places that Giannis lived, breathed, experienced. That was the internet cafe where he and his brothers used to watch NBA highlights.”


On shooting in the Milwaukee Art Museum

Giannis speaking while seated alone in a massive arched interior.

"The museum is like a character in the movie. It’s such a big space and it's quintessential Milwaukee. There are very few people that can fill such a space. But Giannis is this larger-than-life star and he just fills the space and he looks epic in it.”


On the teary championship moment

Giannis seated alone holding back tears amongst cheering fans.

"There are a million moments in films where we have to keep the story going. The narrative has to keep progressing. And then there are other moments that you just want to live in and appreciate. And that minute-plus shot was worthy of that time.”


On Giannis shooting hoops with his brothers

The four Antetokounmpo brothers on a basketball court in Greece.

"I just wanted whatever happened to happen. There was a chance that they wouldn’t say anything compelling and we’d have to cut it. But I was willing to just let it go because their chemistry is so great, and it ended up being this really beautiful ending.” ◽