Tuesday, March 29, 2011 , Updated 12:00 a.m., April 5, 2011
DALLAS International Film Festival preview: Elevate
Director Ann Buford follows African basketball players and their dreams to the U.S.
It took four years for director Anne Buford to complete Elevate, an inspiring and thought-provoking documentary that gets up close and personal to exhibit the very weight of the perseverance required to bring a dream to fruition (playing at the Landmark Magnolia Theatre in Dallas on Tuesday, April 5 and Wednesday, April 6).
Elevate centers on four young athletes who attend the SEEDS Academy in Senegal run by Amadou Gallo Fall, former VP of Scouting for the Dallas Mavericks, as they prepare to play basketball in the U.S. with the ultimate hoop dream of playing in the NBA.
Upon arrival in the U.S., Assane, Aziz, Dethie and Byago find their journey to the NBA will be much longer than they expected, as they find that their strength off the court is as great a requirement for success as their ability to play a good game. Each player endures feelings of abandonment, homesickness and loneliness as they quietly navigate cultural differences with the same finesse they exhibit on the court.
But the men’s quest doesn’t end with playing for the NBA. Several have plans to return to Senegal and embark on other careers, such as becoming a doctor or marrying and settling down. No matter what they do, they will share their success and adventures with family and friends in effort to provide support and guidance to others with similar dreams.
“There is an unwritten rule which is about not forgetting where you come from,” Amadou Gallo Fall tells the students in the film. “You gotta have an interest in sending back the lift, so others can take it up.”
I spoke to Buford about her film:
DIFF: How did you learn about this story?
Buford: My brother, RC Buford, is general manager of the San Antonio Spurs. A few years ago he introduced me to Amadou Gallo Fall, who at the time was VP of Scouting for the Dallas Mavericks. Given the intense rivalry between the Spurs and Mavs, I quickly gathered that Amadou must be pretty special. I had wanted to make a documentary, and Amadou's unique vision for SEEDS Academy seemed like the perfect fit. Two weeks after our meeting, I was on a plane to Senegal with a film crew and 15 NBA scouts.
DIFF: I guess it goes without saying that you’re a basketball fan, right?
Buford: I am a huge hoops fan! My festival schedule has perfectly bookended March Madness. In fact, I am answering your questions on the plane to watch my Kansas Jayhawks play in the Sweet Sixteen.
DIFF: That's a wonderful moment you caught when Assane receives his visa. Did you know beforehand or was it simply luck that you were there in the moment?
Buford: When shooting verité, you spend an enormous amount of time waiting around, so you always feel that you’ve earned your luck. It was never a secret that there might be an opportunity for the boys to go abroad, as they had to fill out applications to various prep schools. But we had no idea how Assane would react to finding out that he had received a scholarship and ultimately his visa, which makes that moment so special. Had we planned for it, we would have lit his bedroom!
DIFF: How did you select the participants - Assane, Aziz, Byago and Dethie? Were there others as well?
Buford: These four boys had always been compelling to us because of their unique stories. There were others, of course, but we narrowed our subjects down based on rather practical considerations. Some of the boys, for example, shut down once the camera turned on. Another, Moussa Seck who is 7’3” tall, was recruited to play in Italy, and our budget prevented us from following him there.
DIFF: What was the most difficult thing about making this film?
Buford: Working with young people and watching them struggle — and possibly being responsible for part of that struggle — was extremely hard for me. Shooting at SEEDS Academy in Senegal was relatively easy, as the boys were very comfortable together in their surroundings. But once they made the jump to the United States, alone in a new world, the real pain and difficulties began. As a result, Assane and Dethie had a love-hate relationship with the crew and with me. Assane asked numerous times if I loved him because of him, or because of the film. I adore these guys, so there was a lot of soul-searching on my part and discussions with the boys about why we were all doing the film. They were always very clear that they were doing it for SEEDS.
DIFF: What do you want your audience to take away from Elevate?
Buford: I’d like viewers to give me their own impressions of the film, rather than tell them what I think they should take away. Their opinions actually inform mine.
DIFF: Do you have plans for your next project?
Buford: My next project for now is to make sure that as many people see this film as is possible. The boys sacrificed a lot to tell their stories, to ensure that SEEDS Academy lives on and can help provide further opportunities for young people. What Amadou Gallo Fall has created is going to make a difference in Senegal and Africa and deserves our support.
Pegasus News Content partner - Dallas International Film Festival
The DALLAS International Film Festival presented by Cadillac runs March 31-April 10.
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