I got to meet and take a photo with Assane and Dethie from ELEVATE.
Mark Saldana’s Interview with Anne Buford, director of ELEVATE On Monday morning March 14, I had the honor and pleasure of interviewing a director whose first film made its premiere and debut here at SXSW Film 2011 the night before. I attended this first screening with much interest and anticipation and was not disappointed. Anne Buford’s ELEVATE tells the true stories of four young men from Senegal, Africa (Assane Sene, Byago Diouf, Dethie Fall, and Aziz Ndiaye) who join the SEEDS Academy. This program, started by Amadou Gallo Fall, a native of Senegal and former NBA player, assists Senegalese boys seeking educational and athletic opportunities in the United States. The film truly touched my heart. I absolutely loved learning about the inspirational stories of these young men who have struggled to get where they are today. When I met with Ms. Buford, she obviously feels much pride for these young men who have come along way (not only in distance), like a close aunt would feel for her nephews. She was very easy to talk to, down to earth, and a joy to interview. Mark Saldana: This is your first film. Was pursuing this career as a filmmaker something you have dreamt about for a long time or something that just evolved through your previous work in communications and fashion? (Anne Buford previously worked for Vogue magazine.) Anne Buford: I always loved film, especially documentary film. I grew up in Kansas. When I grew up, I wanted to see the outside world, experience different places, and pursue a career in media. I attended the University of Kansas where I studied art history. Eventually, I got a job at Vogue magazine as an assistant to Anna Wintour and worked my way up. Writer/director Robert Benton was one of my inspirations to pursue a film career. MS: Regarding the SEEDS Academy, besides education and career opportunities through basketball, do you see a possibility for branching out and expanding to other sports or even other fields such as careers in art or science? AB: Amadou’s (Gallo Fall) dream is to take it beyond sports. His main expertise and connections lie within the world of basketball. He needs more co-collaborators that could assist him with expansion. It’s hard to find someone who loves the work as much as he does. MS: Would you ever consider allowing Hollywood to adapt your documentary into a feature film? I couldn’t help, but think of how well THE BLIND SIDE was adapted into a feature motion picture. I truly believe your film could translate very well also. AB: Yes I would love to have my film adapted. It’s about the boys. They are like family to me. Actually, Assane (Sene) could play himself. He has the right personality for film and looks great on camera. MS: Have you or Amadou received any criticism from people stating that the boys in SEEDS are being exploited for their attributes or skills in sports? AB: Amadou has an open program which works well with the boys’ families. I personally haven’t received or heard of any criticism. In making the film, I did walk a fine line where it could have gone on an exploitive path, but I care a lot for the boys and would never hurt them or allow them to be hurt. MS: Have there been any young men in the program who have not been successful and returned home? AB: I don’t know. Amadou created a program that oversees the recruitment process for the boys. He makes sure they are getting the right mentoring, good coaching, and that they have positive influences and reinforcement in their lives. The boys will always have each other for support. No matter the distance, they stay in constant contact with each other through the telephone or computer. They are a band of brothers. MS: Can you see the SEEDS program expanding beyond Senegal assisting youth in other countries? AB: Amadou would love to expand, but I encouraged him first to perfect the model in Senegal before thinking of expansion. Senegal has a very particular culture. The other thing is that you don’t want a program to expand too large for its own good. MS: What were some of the challenges of working there? AB: We were using new technology with our equipment. The heat would be hard on our computers and with our resources limited there, we had to discover new ways of doing things. Weather was the big factor. We had to deal with the rainy season as well as the harsh heat. MS: This was a project very close to your heart. Do you have any other film ideas similar to this one and as close to your heart as this one? AB: I have one, but can’t say I know how to do it. MS: Can you elaborate or explain? AB: (Shakes her head) MS: Too personal? AB: All of my projects are personal. It is the only way to get a finished project