Aziz and Assane reflect in Elevate.
(Credit: Courtesy of Variance Films)

This is a very emotional documentary – one for the ages. Elevate, a film by Anne Buford and produced by Mark Becker, Chiemi Karasawa and Victoria Yoffie, details the lives of teen boys whose lives only seem to have goal: to play professional basketball. Buford shows her humility in making the film.

“As a first time filmmaker, I had to learn how to express what I wanted to see on film,” she says in a prepared statement. “I realized, for example, that movement was very important to us – movement and intimacy that reflect the dynamic nature of our subject. It also became clear to me that in documentaries you can’t insist on perfection.”

Elevate further shows a basketball academy in West Africa and some high-pressure scenes of American prep schools. But why is this important? Well, the flick tells the personal stories of four tall West African teenagers with big hearts, open minds and one shared goal of playing in the NBA.

From beginning to end, Elevate touches on various issues, including adjustment. A lot of players head to Dakar, Senegal for potential future success with the SEEDS Academy taking place in small-sized land leased from the government.

“We were lucky to be granted an unusually intimate view of this process because of my brother’s standing in the basketball community. From our first arrival in Senegal, we were treated like members of the NBA family, which made filming over these years a great deal easier,” Buford says. “One of the challenges for a film with this kind of longevity is that people come in and out of the production.”

Eventually, four young men pass the crucial test of the training camp atmosphere; they receive scholarship offers and come to the United States, while their lives are positively changed forever.

Under 90 minutes, Elevate has drama, provides profound insight into West African basketball culture and shows the intense challenges that these athletes have to overcome. These challenges include learning the English language, adapting to American lifestyles, drivers education, girls and African stereotypes.

“In showing our film, we realized that it’s hard to evade categorization. People wanted to brand us as a sports film or a do-gooder film,” Buford explains. “The narrative was never so simple. My intention from the start has been to tell the true story of these kids’ lives and by doing so expose American audiences to something they would not otherwise have seen or know about.”

In brief, this movie is a must-see for its heartwarming scenes; Elevate is an epic documentary.

Elevate opens at Laemmle's Sunset 5 on Nov. 4.

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