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Interview with Anne Buford - Director of Elevate

by Melissa Silverstein
October 21, 2011 1:30 AM
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After premiering this past spring at SWSX, Elevate reaches theatres this weekend. Here's a comment from Anne on what the experience has been like since the film premiered last spring:

Without question, my favorite experience post ELEVATE’s premiere at SXSW, has been hearing all the positive responses from the boys at SEEDS Academy. They love the film and have really viewed it as their story, their history. One of the main subjects-Dethie-has not only watched the film over 40 times, he has traveled and supported the film across both continents. I feel so honored to have their blessing, at the end of the day I made the film for them, for SEEDS, and I am so excited that their story will now be shared in theaters across the US.

Here is an interview with director Anne Buford that ran last spring when the film premiered.

Women and Hollywood: What made you want to tell this story?

Anne Buford: People need to know the good that is being created worldwide on a micro-level, in this case Africa, that can have substantive impact for socio-economic change on a larger scale. SEEDS Academy is simply one’s man vision to replicate an opportunity that he had been given as a teenager in Senegal, West Africa-to use his God-given gift of height to receive an athletic scholarship in the United States. Net-net basketball is a tool to create opportunity. And I have an unusual understanding and access to the world of NBA teams, general managers, coaches and scouts that help create this seemingly one in eight million chance.

WaH: How were you able to finance a film like this?

AB: Passion and sacrifice.

WaH: What do you feel you brought as a woman to this piece?

AB: What I personally brought to the story was a deep personal connection to the subject(s), an idea of what I wanted to do and the specialness of the story. Shooting verite, I had no idea what would unfold during filming but I know my sensibility and am tenacious to that end. I honestly thought that if I don’t do this movie, no one else will...and I only want to do films that I don’t think others will do.

WaH: Was it hard for you as a female director to tell this story where all the characters were boys and men?

AB: For me, all filmmaking is a team sport, I don't necessarily approach life from a male or female perspective. I worked with 3 guys who constantly understood my vision and helped me to that end, so who can say which is what.

WaH: You said that Americans often view Africa through a distorted lens of war. Can you elaborate on that?

AB: New York is not Kansas which is not California. Africa is a very large continent with many diverse countries, cultures and languages. The information that we receive as Americans, lump the entire continent into several stereotypes -- guns, war, famine and extreme poverty just to name a few. Senegal has poverty and lack of opportunity, but the people are peaceful, proud, hopeful and not socially or psychologically impoverished. They don’t want our pity, all they want is a chance.

WaH: It seemed that it was so hard for the boys to be away from home and there is so much pressure for them to succeed. How did they cope?

AB: Skype, texting, buses, trains, etc. The boys are a real band of brothers. SEEDS Academy instills in the boys that in order for life and Africa to work, that they all must work together, accept and support each other. They are young guys at the time and may not understand exactly what they are learning. But upon transitioning to the United States, they stay in constant communication and give advice to each other about handling their loneliness, injuries, cultural differences and GIRLS.

WaH: Sports is one outlet for talented young men to escape from poverty. Was there any discussion in Senegal about the lack of opportunities for girls?

AB: Basketball is already creating similar opportunities for young women in Senegal and Africa. Like the guys, teenage girls are receiving athletic scholarships to the States and Senegalese women have been playing professional hoops in Europe for many years. SEEDS Academy founder Amadou Gallo Fall has a vision to open a similar academy for girls. But given that Senegal is predominantly Muslim, creating a boarding school for women has certain logistical and religious challenges and cannot simply be an extension of the existing situation.

WaH: What do you want audiences to get out of this film?

AB: Honestly I am more curious to hear about what people take away from seeing ELEVATE. Perception is so personal and understanding others opinion, develops and broadens my perspective on ELEVATE, filmmaking and life.

WaH: Do you have any advice for other female documentarians?

AB: Take risks and see the challenges as creative opportunities.


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