You have never met someone quite like Kassim “The Dream” Ouma. Yes, oftentimes that seems to be what documentaries are for – to introduce you to someone “you’ve never met”. However, Kief Davidson’a KASSIM THE DREAM goes the distance to fulfill that obligation and well beyond. Ouma’s buoyant, incorrigible personality could sustain a dozen films (and television shows, for that matter). However, after Davidson allows you to be charmed by his subject’s ever-present smile and impenetrable good will, he deftly lowers the boom on the realities of Ouma’s past as a child soldier – never for a moment shying away from the atrocities that he committed in Uganda – another lifetime ago. There is compartmentalizing one’s life and then there trying to keep your past in a safe deposit box somewhere. As we take a small part of this journey with Ouma, it becomes very clear that his opponents in the boxing ring are mere stand-ins for a host of demons he’ll be fighting the rest of his life.
1 Why were you drawn to tell Kassim Ouma’s story?
My first encounter with Ugandan boxer Kassim Ouma was in the summer of 2005, just prior to his World Championship title defense against Roman Karmazin. Kassim greeted me with a brash, confident smile – “Hey dude, you the director? You Jewish, right? I’m black Irish”. This was the upbeat, good-natured side I’d read about in numerous articles on the former child soldier. But how could a man, kidnapped at the age of six and forced to a life of senseless tribal killing, be so good-humored? How did he overcome his turbulent past and become the Junior Middleweight Champion of the World? These were questions that I wanted to answer.
2 How did you manage to get the access (and ability to film) to the Ugandan military?
Getting access to the Ugandan military was a complicated challenge. For months prior to the shoot, the top Army Commander continually refused my telephone requests to film with military troops. When we arrived in Uganda, I went to the Army barracks and convinced him that it was imperative to film with the military because Kassim would not have become a World Champion boxer without the discipline and training of the army. I also dropped the name of our Executive Producer – Forest Whitaker – as often as possible. Thanks to his recent role as Idi Amin, he is well-regarded in the country. Desperate times call for drastic measures I guess. The next thing I knew, I had full access to a military base and a division of armed troops.
3 What unique challenges were there to documenting the boxing side of Kassim’s life?
We were forced to shoot A LOT of footage. During training camp you never quite knew when Kassim would say something hilarious or insightful, so we had to let our cameras roll. It made for a very challenging edit as we had over 200 hours of footage.
4 One of the charms of Kassim is that he doesn’t seem to possess an inner editor. Was there anything that made it into the film he later regretted?
What I admire about Kassim is his honesty. He tells it like it as and really could care less about what people think. Sometimes it gets him in trouble because he doesn’t think ahead. For instance: I show him drinking and smoking weed in the film. When he viewed the film for the first time – he was very upset. He now has accepted it and understands why it was important to show.
5 Throughout the course of filming, how did you find your opinion of Kassim change or grow?
I tried to never “have an opinion” about Kassim. He is a complex person and it is impossible to comprehend what he went through. I do consider Kassim and his manager Tom good friends. We have a wonderfully dysfunctional relationship.
6 What recent documentaries have made an impact on you?
I saw WALTZ WITH BASHIR at AFI FEST. I thought it was quite powerful.
7 What should a documentary director never forget until it’s too late?
Clean underwear and deodorant when shooting in a remote location.
8 What is the next subject you will be turning your camera towards?
9 Popcorn or candy?
Arclight caramel corn.
KASSIM THE DREAM screens Sunday, March 29 at 12:00PM @ NorthPark 2 and Monday, March 30 at 4:00PM @ NorthPark 3