Kassim Ouma is a fighter. He terrorized, tortured and murdered as an unwilling child soldier in Uganda. Eleven years later, he would become the IBF Middleweight Boxing Champion of the World. Kief Davidson's documentary Kassim the Dream chronicles the life of this fascinating and wildly charismatic young boxer, from his traumatic childhood in Africa to his eventual rise to fame as a boxing superstar in the United States. While the film is held back by a disappointing ending, it ultimately succeeds, for it effectively communicates Ouma's unbelievably engrossing story, accompanied with an exceptional soundtrack and staggeringly beautiful photography.
The film begins with Ouma, a successful boxer at age 27, after fleeing his life of violence in his home country. Confessional interviews with Ouma fill in his back story, while boyhood photographs and vividly-filmed scenes of the Ugandan countryside provide the visual element. Scenes of Ouma's professional boxing matches are juxtaposed with Ugandan soldiers, meandering through fields of tall African grass, AK-47s in hand. Davidson's cinematography is often breathtaking. Clever contrasts of colour, motion and form are expertly edited together in many of the film's exciting visual montages. From there the camera crew follows Ouma around the U.S. to various boxing events, meeting all sorts of family, friends and acquaintances along the way, giving us a glimpse of Ouma's amazingly unique and infectious personality.
The film is paced with all the action and excitement of a boxing match. The soundtrack, consisting of high-energy African rhythms, keeps everything moving forward at a relentless speed. Yet, like a skilled fighter, Davidson often catches the audience as soon as they let their guard down. For all the film's energy and upbeat tone, there are scenes of unbelievable emotional weight and they feel like a punch in the gut. One cannot help but wonder how one man can endure such hardships and maintain Ouma's joyous and ecstatic love for life, which bursts through in every scene. As the film follows Ouma back to Uganda to visit his home and estranged family, there is so much pain and emotion on screen, it's hard to keep a dry eye.
Davidson's direction captivates the audience as he takes them on an emotional roller coaster ride alongside Ouma. He takes us through highs and lows and tells us one hell of a story along the way. The film succeeds so well that the incredibly abrupt and awkward ending was that much more angering. It comes unexpectedly, leaving almost every question about Ouma's journey unanswered. We are given no resolution, no information as to what happens next, nothing. Perhaps if this film was made 10 years from now, there would be a more satisfying conclusion to such an incredible story, but as annoying as the ending is, it renders the film no less beautiful, hilarious or moving.