Tom RostonIndependent journalist Tom Roston checks in and writes about the world of documentaries in his column, Doc Soup.

You can follow Tom on Twitter @DocSoupMan.

Doc Soup: Kassim the Dream

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Kassim the DreamThere’s a new documentary, Kassim the Dream, that just came to a TV near you via video-on-demand last week. You can catch it if you have Time Warner and Cablevision, among other cable providers. It tells the story of Kassim “The Dream” Ouma, who was born in Uganda and was forced to be a child soldier at the age of 6. After being a boxer for the army there, Ouma defected to America and became Junior Middleweight Champion of the World. It’s a pretty compelling blend of a great boxing doc and an immigrant’s tale. It also captures much of the beauty and tragedy in Africa, reminding me very much of War/Dance. I caught up with director Kief Davidson (The Devil’s Miner), and we discussed Kassim.

Doc Soup: Although your film is very unique, there have been several documentaries that have depicted similar subjects and used similar imagery (War/Dance, When We were Kings): how did you factor that into your film?

Kief Davidson: I enjoyed both of those films — When We Were Kings is one of my favorites, but they are very different from Kassim the Dream. Actually, when I began filming Kassim Ouma in the summer 2005, children in armed conflict had not surfaced in mainstream media as they have today. This is a very character-driven story about Kassim Ouma, a former child soldier who becomes a boxing champion of the world. It’s the ultimate underdog story.

Doc Soup: Forest Whitaker is a producer on the film — how did he get involved, and what has he done for the film?

Davidson: Forest Whitaker and his wife Keisha came aboard after viewing an initial rough cut, and they provided key access in Uganda. The dedicated couple paired Kassim the Dream with GQ Gentlemen’s Fund for a special Hollywood screening event, raising awareness and funds for Hope North, a 40-acre campus in Northern Uganda where orphans and former abductees find a place to call home. It’s a charity near and dear to the Whitakers’ hearts since meeting Hope North founder Sam Okello during filming on The Last King of Scotland.

Doc Soup: Ishmael Beah’s A Long Way Gone is another story of a child soldier. Did you get in touch with Beah? What did you think of the questioning of the veracity of his tale, and did that impact you for your film?

Davidson: After spending so much time with Kassim, there is no doubt in my mind that he experienced massive childhood trauma, though there is room for interpretation since his education and emotional development ceased the moment he was kidnapped, doped and coerced to kill at age 6. UN Special Representative Radhika Coomaraswamy made the introduction to Ishmael Beah. His talent is a testament to the success of rehab and a strong support system. What a waste of time doubting authenticity when we can focus on providing more resources for former child soldiers in the community! To his credit, Ishmael reached out to Kassim after he viewed the film, but I do not know how Kassim responded.

Doc Soup: What sort of social action campaigns have come out of the film? I’m particularly interested in the boxing school that Kassim visits in Uganda.

Davidson: After filming the boxing workshop and drama in the Barlonyo camp, our invaluable guide, Victor Ochen, tipped us off to the best gift we could afford to buy for everyone: sandals! We bought several hundred pair; so little goes so far over there. Tom and Kassim promised to send boxing gear, but they had several problems at customs, where the equipment never showed. 

Our next goal is to bring the film as an educational and entertaining experience to the people in Northern Uganda. Logistics are in place, but we are still looking for equipment donations (speakers and an inflatable screen to accommodate audience sizes in the thousands). On the festival circuit, our collaborations with NGOs like Hope North, Name Campaign, World Vision, Guluwalk, Resolve Uganda and Cup to Cup have contributed informative post-screening speakers. We have strong interest from schools and clubs, so we hope to see student campaigns materialize once the DVD releases. Both the Tribeca Film Festival and AFI Film Fest have selected Kassim the Dream for their educational series.

Doc Soup: When did you complete the film, and what has happened in Kassim’s life since then?

Davidson: We wrapped editing in 2008. Since then, Kassim has returned to family in Uganda at least twice. His boxing career has slipped into oblivion. Last we spoke, Kassim was working as an electrician’s assistant. I’m still holding out for Kasssim Ouma’s Hollywood ending…

Tom Roston
Tom Roston
Tom Roston is a guest columnist for POV's documentary blog. He comes to us as a ten-year veteran of Premiere magazine, where he was a Senior Editor, and where he wrote the column, Notes from the Dream Factory. Tom was born and raised in New York City. He graduated from Brown University and started his career in journalism at The Nation and then Vanity Fair. Tom has also written for The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, GQ, New York, Elle and other publications. Tom's favorite documentaries are: 1. Koyanisqaatsi - Godfrey Reggio 2. Hoop Dreams - Steve James 3. The Up series - Michael Apted 4. Crumb - Terry Zwigoff 5. Capturing the Friedmans - Andrew Jarecki