Elevate: Film Review

Engaging doc follows hoop-dreaming Senegalese teens as they are groomed for American university careers.

Anne Buford’s likeable doc "Elevate" centers on tall teen boys from Dakar, Senegal, for whom basketball seems the only path to a better life — and a scholarship in the U.S.

AUSTIN -- (Spotlight premieres) An intercontinental though less in-depth version of Hoop Dreams, Anne Buford’s likeable doc Elevate centers on teen boys for whom basketball seems the only path to a better life. Combining that familiar narrative with a culture-clash element, the film adds enough interest to attract viewers, especially on the small screen.

At its heart is the SEEDS program in Dakar, a sports camp where Senegalese emigrant-turned Dallas Mavericks talent scout Amadou Fall attempts to prepare talented (and incredibly tall) youths for basketball scholarships to U.S. prep schools.

Aside from one drama involving a student visa, filmmaker Buford doesn't spend much time milking "will I make it?" suspense on the movie's African front. Instead she follows a few of the lucky campers once their efforts have been rewarded with journeys to the U.S.

At well under 90 minutes, the doc doesn't take the time some viewers would like to get to know her very sympathetic subjects. Instead the movie spends most of its time watching coaches in Illinois and Connecticut schools as they groom these promising young players for the flood of university scouts who come to see them play.

She touches on issues of adjustment (problems understanding teachers' American accents, say), but leaves much — like any difficulties the boys might have faced here because of their Muslim faith — unexplored.

There's just enough drama in this department, thanks to injuries and academics, that we do worry whether the subjects will have to go back home without a college education. In the meantime, Buford does offer exciting action on the court accompanied by a soundtrack that, throughout the film, offers an invigorating mix of African hip-hop, traditional instrumentation and American pop.

Venue: South by Southwest Film Festival, Spotlight Premieres
Production Company: Sharp 7
Director-producer: Anne Buford
Producers: Chiemi Karasawa, Mark Becker, Victoria Yoffe
Executive producers: RC Buford, Peter Holt, Robert S. Kaplan
Director of photography: Daniel Vecchione
Music: Shawn Lee
Editors: Mark Becker, Chris White
No rating, 81 minutes