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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  1. ....still riding the contact high. so happy for you and Team Leone Stars! xx

  2. so awesome! thanks for sharing. very proud :)