Kassim the Dream -- Film Review

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Born in Uganda in 1978, Kassim Ouma was abducted by rebels when he was 6 and trained to kill and torture. His journey from child soldier to boxing champion is the basis for "Kassim the Dream," a moving and at times chilling documentary. Full of obvious good intentions, the film still suffers from a rambling narrative that leaves too many loose ends. A natural for fight fans, "Kassim" will find a wider audience in home markets.

Producer-director Kief Davidson ("The Devil's Miner") opens by blending shots of Ugandan troops on patrol with footage from several of Ouma's boxing matches. With his biography outlined, the fighter then tells his story in his own words. An ebullient personality, Ouma positively beams while recounting his nightmarish past, including the loss of his parents and his participation in several murders. Boxing brought relief from his army duties, and gave him the opportunity to desert while on a tour of the United States.

Although homeless at first, Ouma established a base at the Alexandria Boxing Club in Arlington, Va. Within a year he was fighting professionally, under the guidance of manager Tom Moran, boxing trainer Fred Mutaweta and physical trainer Jeff Goldstein. Defeating Verno Phillips earned him the International Boxing Federation's Junior Light Middleweight Championship.

A large portion of the film shows Ouma training for a match against middleweight champion Jermain Taylor. Workouts are broken up by interviews in which Ouma talks about his family, especially his father, who was murdered after his son defected.

Scenes of Ouma with his mother, Rose Nakagwa, and his sons Ounda and Umar are disarming but not always essential. While Tony Molina's camera catches the fighter drinking and smoking pot, the film glosses over Ouma's scrapes with the law.

Ouma clearly enjoys playing to the camera, and he is expert at gauging what his listeners want to hear, whether they are drug dealers or congressional representatives. When he is given permission to return to Uganda for the first time in years, the film abruptly shifts in tone. Face-to-face with his past, the fighter is shaken, unmoored. More than Uganda's pervasive poverty, it is the underlying menace of President Yoweri Museveni's regime that seems to affect Ouma the most.

Visiting the barracks where he trained as a youth, reunited with his grandmother, collapsing on his father's tombstone, Ouma becomes a different person, one without the help and support he found in the States. This should have been the heart of the film, but Davidson treats it as an afterthought.

Opens: June 5 (IFC Films)
Production: Believe Media and Urban Landscapes Productions, in co-production with Monaco Film Hamburg, ARTE/ZDF Enterprises
Director: Kief Davidson
Producers: Liz Silver, Kief Davidson
Executive producers: Luke Thornton, Forest Whitaker, Keisha Whitaker, Joshua Green.Co-producers: Kathleen Davidson, Tom Moran
Director of photography: Tony Molina, Jr.
Music: Leo Heiblum, Jacobo Lieberman, Andres Solis
Editors: Tony Breuer, Kief Davidson
No rating, 88 minutes
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