Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy New Year!

Two film shoots, TIFF Pitch This, Sundance...
Thank you for supporting the filmmakers of LEONE STARS through a successfully year. Here's to an even better 2012!

Monday, December 26, 2011

December 2011 shoot in Freetown & Bo

Leone Stars directors Allan Tong and Ngardy Conteh with cinematographer Colin Akoon returned to Toronto on Christmas Eve following a two-week shoot in Sierra Leone. Their ever-reliable "fixer" Hash Magona was the fourth member of the crew. The trip to the capital of Freetown plus additional days in the inland city of Bo marks the second voyage by the Leone Stars crew. Other shoots will follow, but for now here are some images of this exciting trip:

Ngardy, Colin & Hash preparing to film from the back of a moving car
through downtown streets in Freetown

Colin capturing kids playing the national pastime on Aberdeen Beach,
Freetown at sundown

Allan with Omaru (left) and his teammates in the eastern city of Bo after practice

Shooting B-roll of a pile of garbage burning off the side of the road in downtown Freetown. Sierra Leoneans don't enjoy garbage pick-up, so they burn it, including a TV set in this blaze.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

LEONE STARS Win Sundance Doc Grant

Toronto (November 23, 2011) - Leone Stars is the lone Canadian recipient of the Sundance Institute's latest round of feature-length documentary grants. Last night, Sundance announced the 29 filmmaking teams that will receive grants from its Documentary Film Program. The Sundance prize arrives two months after the film's historic Pitch This! victory at TIFF, where Leone Stars became the first documentary to ever win that pitch competition.
Leone Stars follows the amputee soccer players of postwar Sierra Leone as they struggle to reach—and win—the World Amputee Football Championships scheduled to take place in Iran in late-2012. The film is directed by Allan Tong and Ngardy Conteh of Toronto.

Leone Stars is presently in the development stage. With the Sundance and TIFF wins, Conteh and Tong are planning another trip to Sierra Leone, this winter. “I’m trilled that the two most important two festivals in North America have helped us to make the film,” says Conteh. “Our dream of bringing this story to the world is one step closer to a reality thanks to Sundance.”

The Sundance Institute Documentary Film Program celebrates its 10th anniversary in 2012 and since its inception has awarded grants to more than 300 documentary filmmakers in 61 countries.

“For many of these filmmakers, receiving a grant will be just the beginning of our relationship with them," said Cara Mertes, Director of the Sundance DFM Program. “We welcome these filmmakers to our community and look forward to working with them to further support and develop their unique visions."

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For further details:
Click for the complete Sundance press release.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Drumcultures online interview with directors Ngardy & Allan

Toronto's Drumcultures online magazine recently spoke to Leone Stars directors Allan & Ngardy in downtown Toronto. Click volume 3-23 at Drumcultures.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Leone Stars Telefilm TIFF Pitch This! video

Here's the video of our winning pitch:

(note: the 30 second trailer with Kobena Aquaa-Harrison playing the Djembe drum live to open the pitch has been edited out)

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Leone Stars wins TIFF’s Pitch This! as first documentary ever

Leone Stars directors Ngardy Conteh (left) and Allan Tong (right) during their presentation at Pitch This!
(photo: TIFF)

TORONTO (September 13, 2011) - Today the documentary Leone Stars beat five dramatic films at the Toronto International Film Festival’s Pitch This! competition. Co-directors Ngardy Conteh and Allan Tong presented their film to 15 judges and packed Bell Lightbox theatre. They walked away with the $10,000 development prize as the first documentary to win
in the 12-year history of Pitch This! and only the second to ever compete.

Leone Stars was chosen the winner after Tong and Conteh's five-minute live pitch followed by two minutes of questions and answers from the jury of film and TV professionals. Tong and Conteh showed brief footage shot by DP Colin Akoon in March this year and, accompanied by Ghanian-Canadian musician
Kobèna Aquaa-Harrison playing thumb piano, delivered a quasi-poem as a slideshow of images taken by photographers Fiona Aboud and Johnny Vong, played on the giant movie screen above. Their central motif was: "Do you believe a one-legged man can fly?"

TIFF's Christoph Straub (Manager of Industry Programming, Canadian Initiatives, TIFF) (far left) and Telefilm Canada's Anne Frank (far right) present Ngardy and Allan with their $10,000 prize (photo: TIFF)

“We worked on our pitch for weeks leading up to the event,” says Ngardy Conteh, “and it paid off. We are happiest for the subjects of the film, who deserve to have their story told.” 2005's Pitch This! winner, Richie Mehta (director, Amal) coached Conteh and Tong (as well as another team), and they also received useful feedback from friend and Montreal filmmaker David Eng. Tong wrote the pitch script while Ngardy edited the slideshow together and enlisted Aquaa-Harrison to play an African drum over the 28-second video footage and the thumb piano.

"I had in mind Richie's Amal pitch which revolved around the motif of an envelope," explains Tong. "I remember how simple, poetic and direct it was, and aimed for the same effect. By pure chance Richie was assigned our coach."

2011 has been touted as the Year of the Doc ever since TIFF announced David Guggenheim's rock doc about superstars U2, From The Sky Down, as the opening night film. Says Tong, “This is a victory for documentarians across Canada who have faced fewer and fewer sources of funding in Canada in recent years. And thanks to Telefilm and TIFF we can now go back to Africa to film the team as they compete at the All-African cup in Ghana.”

Leone Stars follows members of Sierra Leone's Single Leg Amputee Sports Club who are chosen for the national amputee soccer team. They were young boys when rebel soldiers hacked off their arms and legs during Sierra Leone’s ruthless civil war. Surviving poverty, war, and prejudice, the Sierra Leone amputee soccer team dreams of victory at the 2012 world championships. Leone Stars asks: Can victims become champions?

Leone Stars was the first documentary in English Canada to successfully raise over $20,000 in funding on the popular crowdfunding site, The funds allowed the production team to travel to Sierra Leone’s capital, Freetown, and the southern province of Bo earlier this year. Additional funding is needed to follow the team to the world championships in 2012.

Leone Stars is being written and co-directed by Allan Tong and co-directed and edited by Ngardy Conteh. The film is produced by Walter Forsyth of Gorgeous Mistake Productions and executive produced by Jerry McIntosh.

For more information or interviews:,
902.489.4897 (Walter Forsyth, producer)
647.200.9146 (Allan Tong, co-director)
416.897.5575 (Ngardy Conteh, co-director)

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Tuesday, August 9, 2011

TIFF’s Pitch This! selects amputee soccer documentary LEONE STARS to compete for $10,000

TORONTO (August 11, 2011) - The film Leone Stars is one of six finalists chosen to compete at Toronto International Film Festival’s Pitch This! It is the sole documentary this year and only the second doc in the 12-year history of Pitch This! to battle for the $10,000 development prize.

Leone Stars co-directors Allan Tong and Ngardy Conteh will pitch on Tuesday, September 13 in Cinema 3 at the TIFF Bell Lightbox. From noon till 1:30 pm, six pitching teams will have six minutes each to present their project before a live audience and a jury of film professionals. If Leone Stars wins, it will mark an historic year for documentaries at TIFF. From the Sky Down is opening 2011 TIFF as the first-ever doc to hold that honour.

Bono - Defender

Leone Stars follows members of Sierra Leone Single-Leg Amputee Sports Club who are chosen for the national amputee soccer team. They were young boys when rebel soldiers hacked off their arms and legs during Sierra Leone’s ruthless civil war. Surviving poverty, war, and prejudice, the Sierra Leone amputee soccer team dreams of victory at the 2012 world championships. Leone Stars asks: Can victims become champions?
Leone Stars was the first documentary in English Canada to successfully raise $20,000 in funding on the popular crowdfunding site, The funds allowed the production team to take a three-week trip to Sierra Leone capital, Freetown, and the southern province of Bo earlier this year. Additional funding is needed to follow the team to the world championships in 2012.

Leone Stars began in 2008 when Allan Tong saw photos of the team taken by New York photographer Fiona Aboud. Allan enlisted Ngardy as editor then co-director. Halifax producer Walter Forsyth came on board and enlisted Jerry McIntosh, who manages the Feature Documentary Program at the Canadian Film Centre, as the executive producer. Endorsed by War Child Canada Leone Stars is seeking broadcast partners and private investment.

To attend Pitch This! please visit for ticket and pass information.

902.492.1047 (Walter Forsyth, producer)
647.200.9146 (Allan Tong, co-director)
416.897.5575 (Ngardy Conteh, co-director)


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Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Help send the team to Ghana!!

SLASC seeks to raise funds to Ghana to compete in the 3rd African Cup of Nations for Amputee Football
To contribute contact the team directly or go to our CONTRIBUTE page to donate



Pics from the CBC Soccer Day in Canada Interview

Here's a few pics I snapped with my phone as Allan and I got ready to be interviewed on CBC for Soccer Day in Canada. Thanks to everyone who tuned in!

To get one of our stylish t-shirts click here.


Ngardy getting make up

 Allan getting beautified!

 Floor director Bob and host Scott getting ready for the interview

 Allan in deep thought...Ngardy, getting one more pic before the cameras roll

 Much better Allan, ready for the camera now!

All smiles, all done!

We will hopefully post the interview online within the next week when we get a copy.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Leone Stars directors on CBC Soccer Day July 9

Leone Stars creators Ngardy Conteh and Allan Tong will be on CBC-TV sometime between 11:00am and 11:30am (EST) on Saturday, July 9. They will be part of CBC's Soccer Day in Canada, an all-day celebration of The Beautiful Game. CBC will air an excerpt of their footage and interview them about Leone Stars. Tell your friends and tune in! (Available in Canada only.)

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Trailer (May 2011)

January 26, 2012 update: A new trailer, absorbing footage from our December 2011 shoot, will be uploaded shortly. This trailer here was cut with footage shot in March 2011. Enjoy.

Leone Stars Trailer from LeoneStarsDoc on Vimeo.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

A few photos from the trip

Here are also some of the photos I took with my phone (after a few days I stopped taking photos since Johnny had the real camera), Johnny's amazing photos will be uploaded in a few weeks.

I've started to edit the footage, it looks incredible! I'm also going to get the rest of the video I shot on my iPhone together for you to see some highlights of the trip soon.


some views of Freetown, the capital city of Sierra Leone

Cinematographer Colin shooting the view, Johnny and Hasmiyun (our guide) in the background

busy Freetown street

The Cotton Tree, a historic symbol of Freetown

A few kids look in as Johnny takes a photo of Bono, a member of the single leg amputee football club prepares a meal with his family

Saturday, April 2, 2011

video: the crew sets up in Bo province

Here's a quick and dirty video of the crew setting up in Bo, shot by photographer and production assistant Johnny Vong. That's co-director Ngardy Conteh holding the boom mic, and cinematographer Colin Akoon wearing the camera on a Steadicam:

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Farewell & thank you, Sierra Leone

The crew are wrapping up a long, hard, but productive shoot that has seen its share of adventures. P.A. Johnny writes as he leaves Sierra Leone:

Got away from the big city for a few days, loved the sweet folks in Bo and Matru. People of Sierra Leone have nicknamed me JOHNNY BE GOOD. Swarm of children spontaneously broke out in song just for me (got video!). We stopped traffic in the crowded streets, and just about everywhere we went. Turned down a marriage proposal from an 11-year-old village girl.

Amazing time.

Monday, March 28, 2011

A week of filming: Ngardy's notes

Ngardy and the crew have returned to Freetown after filming in the countryside for most of last week. They were away from internet, which is unheard of outside the capital. Filming has been round-the-clock in the humidity of west Africa and the crew has shown amazing resilience. Here are Ngardy's notes:

Went to Bo, about a four-hour journey including the stops along the way. We met the amputee team in Bo. They are the national champs (won the first national competition in December) and made me their honourary team manager.

Visited my Grandpa. Very emotional as it was my first time meeting him and he is very old now. Spent the afternoon interviewing two members of the Bo team.

Shot some B-roll in Bo before traveling to Mattru Jong on a very bumpy three-hour ride. Met my Grandmother, haven't seen her in at least 5 years. Very joyous.

I was able to interview a former solider from the Kamajor Militia who gave good insight into the civil war. Almost seven hours back to Freetown, exhausted!!

Back in the capital to shoot the practice of the Freetown team.

Colin and I rigged the movcam to the car and drove around to get B-roll.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Filming the Saturday practice & visiting Bono Kabo

Ngardy has sent notes about filming the weekly team practice last Saturday on Aberdeen Beach in Freetown. The beach rests on the shores of the Atlantic and is the only time each week when all the players meet. Otherwise it's extremely difficult for Ngardy to reach the players since hardly any have a phone of any kind, never mind access to e-mail.

Some shots Colin took, mostly Movcam*:

* team publicist Wizzy welcomed me to the team

* Wizzy introduced me to every member of the team

* the team sang their song, then surrounded me singing it

* coach talking to team, on sideline and in the middle of the beach pitch, coaching, yelling

* scrimmage/practice games, they split into 3 team and rotated playing 10-15 minute informal games at a time

* we lav-miked [portable microphone attached to person] the coach during warm-ups and drills and various players (including Bono Kabo) during the scrimmage games

* players after practice putting on their prosthetic legs, chatting

Game last fall. Since uploading images from Sierra Leone is slow, Ngardy's images will be sent later

After practice we took a break to dump footage [to portable hard drives so that the camera had film new footage] and eat lunch. Then we went to Aberdeen road where seven members of the team live.

Also that weekend, the crew visited the site of the refugee camp where the team met in 2001 and formed the club. Why are some players still living here, long after the end of the war? The camp is gone, but they're still on this spot?

Ngardy: They were very vocal about this. They have nowhere else to go--waiting for a donor or an angel to get them out of there. Or the gov't to care.

Ngardy then visited the home of one of the players, Bono Kabo. After listening to Fiona Aboud's 2007 interviews I suggested that Gad interview him. He sound articulate, passionate and intelligent.

Bono, went to his place, a two-bedroom house but with no electricity or running water. He built it himself. His eldest child is in boarding school so she wasn't around.

We spent about four hours with him. Colin followed me and him on Steadicam as we walked to his house. Mostly talked about how he got his house. Shot him while he made a meal for his kids outside on coal pots.

His interview was very captivating. He wept when talking about becoming a soldier, speaking in detail about that experience, and losing his limb.

More to come....

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Shooting in Freetown: Ngardy's notes

Ngardy writes from an internet cafe in Freetown. Messages from her lately have come from her cell phone across the Atlantic to Allan. As she explains:

So, we haven't been to the internet cuz we've been exhausted at the end of everyday shooting and it is quite an effort to get to the cafe.

Shooting from 9-6 everyday - in the hot sun - very exhausting. Getting to be late after dumping the footage to hard drive, getting used to the dogs, roosters, and the 5-hr time difference has also impacted all of our sleep [DP Colin Akoon & PA Johnny Vong]. But spirits are high and we're having an incredible experience.

Shooting in public: pretty much you have to seek permission before you can even hold a camera in public if you are not a local. The general feeling is that foreign media has come here and exploited peoples' images. Understandable.

Yesterday, we had [team publicist] Wizzy and some team members walk around the streets. Since they were are focus and this took place around their office people we were fine shooting the cameras in public.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Shooting in Freetown

Ngardy, Colin and Johnny are busy shooting. There's no time to waste, especially in a land where you're lucky to have a telephone or any sort of internet. Ngardy has access to an internet cafe which has been as slow as mud. But she has been texting me (Allan Tong) every day. Let me pass some of her notes. (Sorry, no photos right now. They take too long to send from Sierra Leone:)

* Interviewed the Minister of Youth Employment & Sports.

* Having issues with Colin & Johnny on the street. Locals don't like foreign cameras on them.

* Excited with filming the team practice Saturday morning at Freetown beach.

* Got great shots of kids playing soccer.

* Player interviews: Bono interview went very well.

* Another player, Momellah, isn't around, but found a very captivating guy in the group interview yesterday.

More to come, hopefully with more text and a photo.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

One step closer to the Leone Stars

the players in Freetown, fall 2010

Ngardy has been busy since stepping off her transatlantic flight last week. She writes from a noisy internet cafe in Freetown:

I spoke with soccer team spokesperson Wizzy. We are going to meet up to discuss the game plan for shooting. The team wasn't able to practice last Saturday as they usually do, because the city was shut down for cleaning. All the roads are blocked once a month to clean the streets. However, Wizzy says the players are excited and will definitely hold a practice next Saturday.

All in all, I am in very good hands and confident I'll find some priceless footage. Very excited.


Sunday, March 13, 2011

Ngardy arrives in Freetown

From Ngardy:

Saturday, March 12, 2011

I arrived in Freetown last night after a long 8.5-hour flight. Arriving in Lungi Airport in Sierra Leone: I was a bit surprised at how thick the air was especially for 9pm at night.

Getting through immigration and customs was effortless and my cousin Hasmiru who is also our guide for this trip was waiting for me at the airport entrance with a huge crowd of people. He'd didn't need a sign since we "met" each other for the first time on Facebook the day before!

From there we drove to the ferry dock. The ferry ride was one hour, a comfortable ride as we rode in "first class" ($2 instead of $1) to sit in the enclosed space with a bar and music playing.

Impressions: I do not feel like I'm in a foreign land. I do feel very comfortable here, surrounded by my brothers and sisters. I've described it to my husband as being at a Sierra Leone community function in Toronto transplanted to the backdrop of St.John's, Antigua.

The buildings, building materials, the bright-coloured walls and hand-painted billboards, the abundance of cell phone company signs and advertising, the stalls on the streets, people liming, music playing -- all felt familiar.

I have touched base with Wizzy, the representative for the amputee football team, they were supposed to practice today, but the city is barricaded for street cleaning so it had to be canceled.

It's almost midnight and I feel more awake now than I have all day!


Thursday, March 10, 2011

Ngardy's Journey Begins

I started traveling to Sierra Leone yesterday, I'm going a few days ahead of the team to save airfare. I flew out of Barbuda yesterday morning and spent the day in Antigua waiting to board my next flight. The butterflies are still dancing in my belly, a mixture the anticipation of finally going to Sierra Leone after all these years coupled with the pressure of shooting this documentary....

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Allan's notes #1

With the crew leaving for Sierra Leone in a week, co-director/writer/co-producer Allan Tong (who's staying in Toronto because the budget can't afford him to go) and producer Walter Forsyth have been coordinating the shoot in the pre-production phase. Here are some rambling notes from his journal:

The past month has been a continual process of quoting equipment fees and crunching numbers. Walter updates the budget daily. "Can we afford this?" "What about that?" "Can we do better?"

Only in 2011 can a film crew do pre-production in three different places: Walter in Halifax, Gad in the Caribbean on her honeymoon, and the rest of us in Toronto. Thanks, Skype & Gmail.

Camera, lights, sound...and insurance. How heavy is all this stuff (for airplane luggage charge)?

Shots for crew: yellow fever, typhoid, malaria. Can't believe shots cost this much.

Gad reminds the others: mosquito netting, sunblock, Brita filters. Take an extra ass -- the roads are bumpy...

Saturday, March 5, 2011

6 Questions with Johnny Vong

1) You're volunteering to help as a production assistant on this shoot. How come?

Strange, lovely, impeccable timing. I was in Barbuda for Ngardy's wedding in January when she told me that this project was all ready to go... crew, money, everything was coming together. I was very happy and excited for her. When I returned to Toronto, I got the unfortunate news that I've been laid off from my full time job....After telling her my story, I simply asked if I could come along with her to Sierra Leone. I agreed to pay for everything including my plane ticket with whatever money I had saved up. We both agreed: I was crazy.

2) In two sentences tell us about yourself.

I am a filmmaker, photographer, devoted cinephile. I'm adventure-seeking, energetic and passionate.

3) How do you know Ngardy?

We met while working together at a small production company many years ago.

4) How are you preparing?

I am reading a lot about the people and history of Sierra Leone right now. There's a lot of emotional territory for me to explore, and I know this research will greatly inform the thematic ideas around the images I capture.

5) Any expectations of what you'll see and experience?
Sierra Leone is one of the poorest countries in the world, and the quality of life there is very low. I'm not expecting a holiday retreat. I'm expecting to experience first-hand what life in a country so recently ravaged by war, corruption and violence really feels like.

6) What do you intend to shoot?
We'll be shuttling back and forth between a quiet village and the busy city mayhem of Freetown. It's been ten years since the end of civil war, so it's an incredible opportunity to be able to capture the mood and atmosphere of a country rebuilding, with all its optimism as well as heartbreak. I will be using the images I capture from this project for a personal project...a kind of Chris Marker style film, a hybrid of narrative fiction and documentary, something kind of poetic, essayist or travelogue in form and genre.

Monday, February 28, 2011

7 Things You Should Know about Sierra Leone

Chances are you don't know anything about Sierra Leone except that it's somewhere in Africa. This post is to teach you the basics of this nation, where our film crew is heading from
March 15 to 30. Some here are some tidbits you should know:

1) Sierra Leone is roughly the size and population of the Golden Horseshoe
of southern Ontario.

2) The country was once a British colony and the hub of the transatlantic slave trade.

3) The hills surrounding what is now Freetown Harbour were called Serra de Leão by early Portuguese explorers, meaning "Lion Mountains." That's how the country got its name.

4) Like many African countries, Sierra Leone is divided into a rainy season (from May to November) and a dry season (December to April). That's why our crew has chosen to
film in March.

5) Based on per-capita GDP (the wealth of a nation divided by population), Sierra Leone is often ranked the poorest or second-poorest country on Earth.

6) Ironically, Sierra Leone is one of the top 10 diamond-producing nations in the world.

7) Diamonds played a key role in the bloody civil war of 1991-2002. The amputee soccer team lost their limbs during those dark years, and that era is the focus of the film, LEONE STARS.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

10 Questions for Director Ngardy Conteh

1) First, how do you pronounce your name?
I always tell people it’s like "Daddy." but with a ‘G’. The ‘N’ and ‘R’ are silent. My name is traditional spelt "N’gadie," "Ngadie" or "Ngady," but my father (who was a linguist) altered the spelling of my name, as he did with all my siblings.

2) What's your connection to the subjects of this film?
I was born in Freetown, Sierra Leone to Sierra Leonean parents. You can say the subjects of the film are my countrymen.

3) How did you get from Sierra Leone to Canada?
My father came to Canada to pursue his PhD at the University of Toronto on a Commonwealth Scholarship, he brought my family with him when I was three-years-old

4) Who will you film in Sierra Leone?
We will film a range of people, but the focus will be on the players on the single-leg amputee soccer team.

5) What do you wish to learn from them?
I want to learn how they are have been able to adapt to life post-war, what is the driving force behind their desire to be a part of the team. How playing soccer has helped them transcend the obstacles in their lives.

6) Beside the capital of Freetown, will you film elsewhere in Sierra Leone?
We plan on traveling to the villages of Bo and Mattru Jong, and possibly another village, the plans are unfolding each day.

7) What will the climate and conditions be like in SL?
What do you expect to see and feel when you set foot on SL soil?
SL is gearing up to celebrate their 50th anniversary of independence at the end of April, so I imagine the vibe with be very positive getting ready for the celebrations. There has been lots of re-building over the years since the end of the war but there is still a lot to be done.
I’m not sure how I will feel, I’ve imagined this moment for so many years, excitement definitely. I don't have any childhood memories of Sierra Leone so I am hoping just the smells and sites of Freetown will trigger memories.

8) How did you find your director of photography, Colin Akoon?
Colin and I worked several years ago on a television documentary series. He was the DP and I was directing a few episodes. We worked very well together. I trust in his creative skills, and instinct and I always wanted to work with him again if the opportunity arose.

9) How's your family helping you with this shoot?
Myself and the crew will be staying with my extended family while in Freetown and in the villages. They have leant their support and knowledge thought this whole process, especially my mother. The Sierra Leone community in Toronto has also been very helpful as well.

10) What's the theme behind this film? The message?
Belonging. Hope. Strength. Resilience. Finding dignity and belonging through sports.