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The Independent Critic

Assane Sene, Byago Diouf, Amadou Gallo Fall, Papa Madethie "Dethie" Fall, Aziz N'Diaye
Anne Buford
84 Mins.
Variance Films

 "Elevate" Review 
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Assane, Aziz, Byago and Dethie are four African basketball players attending the SEEDS Academy in Senegal, an organization founded by former Dallas Maverick and now team scout Amadou Gallo Fall.

The extraordinary thing about Elevate is that it is a documentary that circles around the world of basketball but, without question, it is not a basketball documentary. Director Anne Buford, sister of San Antonio Spurs G.M. R.C. Buford, magnificently captures the life journeys of these young men, at times a bit heartbreaking yet always inspiring.

Without exception, these four young men come to America recognizing that it affords them the opportunity to use their height and their basketball talent to improve their lives, gain an education and, in their eyes, to return back home to improve the lives of others. To listen to them speak is jaw-dropping, because they speak with such gratitude for their homes and, as well, for the opportunities they've been given here.

Assane Sene has perhaps the most poignant and emotionally satisfying story. Sene is sent to South Kent School, a rural Connecticut school that is very white, very Christian and very basketball crazed. Sene? He's a 7-foot tall African Muslim who is tossed into a world where he must find a way to become part of this community. He does so in a way that is deeply touching, with tremendous humility and patience and, perhaps most of all, his eyes always on the prize of a good education that will help his family and his homeland.

We pride ourselves in America for our tolerance of diversity and our celebration of differing cultures, yet watching each of these young men and their experiences it becomes apparent that it is these young men who have so much to teach us about what it may really mean to live the American Dream.

Buford herself shoots the film patiently, beautifully capturing poignant moments often contrasting scenes from Africa with scenes here in the United States but never really judging either one. There are several films that have attempted to capture the sort of inevitable culture clash that comes from athletes from one country and transplanting them onto American soil, but perhaps never has there been a film that remained so completely focused on the life journeys of the people and that refused to simply paint a greeting card portrait of life in America as the "ultimate" achievement.

D.P. Daniel Vecchione lenses the film beautifully, while the film's original music is among the best to be found in a documentary in 2011.  Elevate has picked up a distribution deal with Variance Films and begins a limited nationwide run on October 21st, 2011. The film, a Crystal Heart Award Winner currently playing the 2011 Heartland Film Festival, is an inspiring, feel good and life-affirming film that will leave you in awe of the human spirit long after you've left the theatre.

© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic