When it comes to sports related documentaries, the gold standard has got to be 1994's incredibly powerful "Hoop Dreams." Following two inner city Chicago kids for five years, the film saw the duo as they worked toward their goal of making it as professional basketball players. Sometimes harrowing, sometimes heartfelt--the film pushed past the subject of sport to be an important document about life in general. Following a similar template is Anne Buford's "Elevate." This earnest documentary features four ball players in Senegal who are fighting for a chance to get scholarships within the United States. Over the course of four years, we will see each as they venture into the American Prep School system in the hopes of qualifying for college sponsorship and NCAA competition. They have varying degrees of success, but the film is ultimately a testament to following your dreams (however impossible) and perseverance.
The movie introduces us to Amadou Gallo Fall, the founder of a unique basketball camp in West Africa that works with promising local talent in the hopes of placing them on a professional career path. The featured players include one who heads off to Lake Forest in Illinois, two that are picked up by South Kent School in Connecticut, and one whose path to America is more circuitous. The guys are just like any other teenaged boys that you're likely to encounter, each wanting to build a better life for their families back home. The challenges include integrating into a new culture, conquering language differences, incorporating their Muslim faith in a largely Christian environment as well as more ordinary pursuits like girls, homework, and loads of basketball practice. The footage in Senegal stands as a striking contrast to what the guys are exposed to in the States.
This is not quite as universal as the aforementioned "Hoop Dreams." After all, "Hoop Dreams" ran almost three hours and only dealt with only two kids. This eighty-three minute presentation has a lot of ground to cover with four players. As such, it didn't get as intimate with its subjects as I might have wanted. But it's still hard not to be inspired and moved by the journey that our four players embark on. "Elevate" was an ambitious project that was four years in the making, and has a lot of heart. It is an easy recommendation for basketball or sporting enthusiasts (although basketball footage is very secondary in the film) or anyone who likes human interest documentaries. KGHarris, 1/12.