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Elevate

Four years, two continents, and a whole lot of culture shock in the making, Anne Buford's endearing and vibrantly photographed hoop-dreams doc follows a quartet of gifted West African teens from the SEEDS Academy (Sports for Education and Economic Development in Senegal) as they head to the U.S. on basketball scholarships. Unlike the bog-standard "small fry gunning for the championship" story (and who's calling any of these seven-footers small, anyway?), Elevate focuses less on NBA long-shot romanticism than on the boys' struggles in assimilating to life in prestigious American prep schools. Assane, Dethie, Aziz, and Byago are each on different tracks with the soberest of expectations, perhaps because it's easy to be disenchanted by visa problems, injuries, unsubtle academic pressures, or being the only Muslim in a Christian institution. Within these daily dramas and interactions with some illuminating supporting players—especially the self-serving coach from Connecticut's South Kent School who jumps ship mid-season to work for Nike or the doting headmaster who offers up a poignant, paternal graduation speech to one of his gold-star students—lies an upbeat but never sugarcoated look at how cultural diversity can provide as many roadblocks as it does opportunities.

 
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