SXSW 2011 Review: ELEVATE
Director: Anne Buford
“It is crucial to Africa’s future social and economic development that it’s young people have a sense of hope.” – Amadou Gallo Fall
This is the primary mission of the SEEDS Academy (Sports for Education and Economic Development in Senegal). Amadou Fall, former scouting director for the Dallas Mavericks, started a school that aims to help African teenagers obtain an American education in hopes that they can one day go to college in America and possibly play in the NBA. Director Anne Buford saw a compelling story unfold in four teenage basketball players and documented their journey from the academy to when they obtained their visas to come to the US.
Filmed over four years from the cement courts in Senegal to American prep schools, ELEVATE took the story of four West African teenage boys, recruited for their academic achievements as well as their athletic prowess for the SEEDS Academy. Assane Sene, Byago Diouf, Dethie Fall, and Aziz Ndiaye all accepted scholarships to prep schools and face many new challenges. Alone in a foreign country with no friends, having difficulty with school,and playing a different style of basketball than they’re used to, they relentlessly pursue their dreams with courage, resilience, and a humble nature in order to help achieve their dreams.
The greatest thing this documentary does is highlighting the motivation of the boys. They don’t have dreams of fame and fortune, many of the boys at the SEEDS Academy (and not just the subjects of the documentary) have aspirations of becoming doctors, and a lot of them plan to one day move back to Africa so they can help their families. These aren’t spoiled players who have street agents coming out of high school, they genuinely want an American education. The film also does a great job of showing that they’re just like regular teenagers. They like sneakers, enjoy music, and one of the boys especially likes American girls with “big backsides."
From a technical standpoint, as a film for people who like sports, there’s a lot to relate to. One of the boys is on a team that gets off to a hot start before going on an eight game losing streak, and he gets attacked and blamed for the losses by one of his American teammates. Any former high school athlete can attest to how often locker room fights break out after a loss, but this is something that neither of these African players has ever had to deal with. They also lack a fundamental base of skill when it comes to basketball, but as pure athletes, these boys are as gifted as they come. That transition to the American game, however, doesn’t come easily and along with everything else they have to deal with, some of them have trouble in school despite how intelligent they clearly are.
ELEVATE is a solid documentary that tells an uplifting tale about how sports can be used as a tool to help improve one’s life. That improvement doesn’t have to come from the fame and fortune of the NBA, though, it can come from simply being given the opportunity for a better life, something that so many of the boys from Senegal are trying to achieve.