Film review

Kei

March 22, 2013
By Firdose Moonda
(Archive)

Rating:

The grass is overgrown. As he steadies himself to plant his pass, water squelches from under his boots. Some of it sprays as high as his elbows. His team-mate slips. They try again.

Kei Kamara film poster
OtherKei charts the rise of Kei Kamara from his homeland Sierra Leone to Norwich City and the English Premier League

Miles away, the outfield is smooth as carpet, and woven as tightly. A few quick darts and nothing more quickly bringd him to the goalmouth. He scores.

Those are the contrasting worlds Kei Kamara operates in. To the first, in Sierra Leone, belongs his heart. To the second, first in Major League Soccer and now the Premier League, belongs his success.

In the artfully made documentary, Kei, Dave LaMattina, Chad Walker and Clay Frost present both sides and the story inbetween marries professional sport and real life in a way only Africa can.

At eight years old, when Kamara found himself on a fishing boat taking him from the Sierra Leone where him and family were "hunted," to Gambia and then on to United States, he did not have ambitions of becoming a footballer. He did not think he was good enough.

At home with his aunt, who he lived with after his mother fled, and the "many people I called brothers and sisters," Kamara was not a star in the making. "The guys I grew up with, they were better players," he remembers. But he had better opportunities.

He was schooled in California, played college football there and was a first-round pick in the 2006 MLS Superdraft. His stock has risen steadily from there but it's obvious he believes his greatest returns should be for his country. He was called up in 2008 and the film tracks him during their September 2011 African Nations Cup qualifier against Egypt. Kamara talks frankly about the state of the game in his native land and the challenges of playing there. "People expect it to be a lot better but we need the fields to be better," he says. There is only one grass field in the country but the only way players are judged is how they perform on it. "The fans have to love you; you have to get your street cred."

These days, Kamara is a favourite among home supporters, even though those who knew him are surprised to see how far he has got. He recalls how many thought his brother Yusef, who died in 2008, and who was "the boss," of the home and the field, would be the one to succeed.

Photographs set against an off-white backdrop tell an intimate story of his childhood and the civil war that claimed the life of another sibling. But it is the final sequence, played out to powerful music but no words and which shows highlights from the match the crew covered, which coaxes goospebumps from flesh and tears to eyes.

In those few frames, the emotions explode and Kamara's statement from earlier seems to make perfect sense. "Soccer makes me a better person, soccer makes me happy, I don't know where I'd be without soccer."

Proceeds from sales of Kei will all go to building a school in Sierra Leone, a personal project of Kei Kamara's.