SXSW Film Review: Son of the Congo

Can basketball star Serge Ibaka go home again?

To American sports fans, he’s Serge “i-BLOCK-ah”, a smiling giant in the mold of Shaquille O’Neal with deltoids the size of your head. But to his fellow Congolese, Ibaka is the one who got out: the lucky native son who escaped his war-torn homeland for the unimaginable riches of the NBA.

Son of the Congo, directed by Adam Hootnick for Grantland/ESPN, follows Ibaka on a return journey to his native Brazzaville to visit and dispense money among family, friends, charities, and demading crowds that materialize wherever he goes. As a young man, his mother dead, his father a political prisoner, and his uncles unwilling to offer him shelter, Ibaka lived on the streets for two years. Now, $50 million later, Ibaka financially supports those same inhospitable uncles.

“The crocodiles here, they know me,” Ibaka jokes on a ferry across the mighty African river. The film will, as intended, build Ibaka’s personal brand. He comes across as a genuinely generous spirit eager to grapple with the challenges of staying true to his roots. The project also resonates as self-aware sports journalism, a far-flung dispatch of our transcontinental gladiator culture and the strange vectors of opportunity it affords.

Son of the Congo

Documentary Spotlight, World Premiere
Wednesday, March 18, 11am, Violet Crown

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SXSW Film, SXSW, Son of the Congo, Serge Ibaka, Adam Hootnick, SXSW Film 2015

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