Bringing the Tam Tam basketball team to the screen with the
EOS C300 Mark II

For their film documenting the story of a unique young basketball team, producer Francesca Tosarelli and director Mohamed Kenawi turned to Canon Cinema EOS. Here's why.
A group of basketball players gather together on a court, standing around their coach. To the side, three filmmakers stand with cameras and a microphone, filming them.

Filming the Tam Tam team's story involved following fast action on the basketball court, as well as capturing dialogue between coach and players. DoP Salama Abdo rigged one of his Canon EOS C300 Mark II bodies (now succeeded by the Canon EOS C300 Mark III) to a gimbal to shoot the play from all angles, while maintaining smooth footage. Of the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM (now succeeded by the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM) and Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM (now succeeded by the Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM) lenses he used, he says: "I'm amazed how sharp they are, and they are made of great materials." © Francesca Tosarelli

"Basketball is a great blessing for me – I feel like I was born to play it," says 19-year-old King, who is at home on the court in the coastal city of Castel Volturno, Italy.

But as a child of migrants, according to Italian law, he wasn't born to play the sport at all. In Italy, children of migrants do not have a right to citizenship from birth. Without a passport and identification card, they're considered foreigners in the eyes of the law – and can be denied the opportunity to compete.

King's hometown, Castel Volturno, north of Naples, is home to tens of thousands of migrant families from West African countries, including Nigeria and Ghana. Here, many live on the fringes of Italian society, undocumented and impoverished. Criminality is rife and the mafia rule the streets.

Seeing so few opportunities for young people, former Italian basketball star Massimo Antonelli decided to set up a non-profit association to offer local youngsters an alternative path. As the Tam Tam Basketball team developed, they made headlines for challenging – and changing – Italy's rigid laws around citizenship.

Their story is now told in Tam Tam Basket, a feature-length documentary for Al Jazeera. Produced by Canon Ambassador Francesca Tosarelli, who brought Northern Italy's Covid-19 struggle to the world in 2020 and has filmed in Iraq, central America and the DR Congo, it has been directed by Mohamed Kenawi for Jordanian production company Vision4Arts.

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"African-Italian minors born here should be acknowledged as Italian citizens, but they aren't," says Francesca. "There have been battles for years that have led to exceptions allowing these young athletes to compete. It is clear in the film that the fight is not over."

Shooting on two Canon EOS C300 Mark II bodies (now succeeded by the Canon EOS C300 Mark III) and Canon zoom lenses including the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM and the Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM, the team captured the delicate balance of fast sporting action and emotive interviews which tell the Tam Tam team's story of hope.

A group of people sit on the roof of a derelict building, with three of them pointing two cameras on tripods at the fourth, who is being interviewed.

Jeffrey, aged 16, is interviewed on the roof of a semi-destroyed building in the Villaggio Coppola settlement, where the Tam Tam team trains every day on an open-air basketball court. This area is one of the largest illegal constructions in Europe. "Jeffrey reminds us how exclusion causes deep anger and how this can be an engine of change if channelled in the right direction, such as through sport," says Francesca. © Francesca Tosarelli

Winning over the team

Francesca first heard about the Tam Tam team in Italian newspapers a few years ago, and their story captured her imagination. "I am fascinated by stories of ordinary people who undertake extraordinary feats that can change the course of civil rights," she says. "This story is poetic, international and their voices are really powerful."

So when friend and fellow director Ayed Nabaa got in touch to make a documentary about the team, she jumped at the chance. As the project developed, Mohamed Kenawi took over directorial duties and by the time the shoot came around in the summer of 2021, Francesca, who is usually found behind the camera, was seven months pregnant. She handed over camera duties to DoP Salama Abdo and focused on creative development and producing.

Tam Tam Basket follows four teenage protagonists on and off the court, alongside their coach, Massimo Antonelli. His dedication to social inclusion and to offering opportunities to those not often afforded them have earned him the total respect of his team. "The relationship between the coach and the players is something really powerful," says Francesca. "The teenagers trust him and he is like a second father to them.

"Gaining the teenagers' trust was not easy, but our main connection, the coach, was key in allowing us to connect with them too," she continues. "One of the greatest rewards was seeing their appreciation of the final film. When people recognise themselves in what they watch, it means that we have kept our narrative promises – the human, ethical and journalistic pact of trust."

A group of people operating two cameras on tripods turn to look at the camera.

The crew behind the Tam Tam Basket documentary at coach Massimo's home preparing for his interview with a two-camera set-up of Canon EOS C300 Mark IIs. From left to right: camera assistant and DIT Anna-Maria-Christine Marmulla, DoP Salama Abdo, sound engineer Mohammad Khair Ali Ger, Tam Tam coach Massimo Antonelli and director Mohamed Kenawi. © Francesca Tosarelli

A teenage boy in a striped polo shirt and shorts sits on a damaged wall, derelict buildings in the background, with his hands clasped in front of him.

"My experience with Tam Tam is my great dream. A dream that came from nothing, and I was not expecting it," says Karim, one of the film's main protagonists. The 16-year-old offered some tender moments on camera. "Karim is grateful for life and aware of the opportunities that present themselves in front of him – he knows how to seize them," says Francesca. © Francesca Tosarelli

A light filmmaking setup

The team's run-and-gun filming captured high-speed sporting action as well as on-the-fly interviews and reflective moments. "There were so many advantages of using Canon's gear, particularly around usability," says Francesca. "We had the freedom to move quickly with our cameras, without wasting time adjusting depth of focus or for changing light. Everything was really quick."

Being nimble in the field was essential when filming in Castel Volturno, a complicated area where poverty and unemployment meet organised and petty crime. "Such an area is subject to its own set of rules, which must be considered when a TV crew is onsite filming," explains Francesca. "There are some places where it is not advisable to film, even B-roll, simply because without knowing it you can find yourself shooting areas controlled by the mafia, or people who are in Italy without documents, or are living in buildings illegally."

Their compact Canon EOS C300 Mark IIs allowed the crew to stay light on their feet on the town's streets, on the basketball court and beyond. "With other cameras you have to pack them when you're moving from different locations," adds Francesca. "The EOS C300 Mark II can always be ready to shoot." The latest model, the Canon EOS C300 Mark III, builds on the strengths of its predecessor, with the same versatile, modular design that means it can be used straight out of the box, rigged onto a drone or gimbal, or kitted out with expansion modules for a studio setup.

A camera operator using the Canon EOS C300 Mark III on an airfield shoot.

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Ergonomics make a huge difference, adds DoP Salama. "This camera is light and easy to use, both handheld and with a shoulder rig. The top and side handles give you a lot of possibilities, along with the flexible monitor – you can shoot from a low angle, side angle, between your legs or up high. We used the EOS C300 Mark II handheld and on a tripod, and we also filmed some following shots on a gimbal."

Salama even waded waist-deep into the sea with the camera above his head to film the Tam Tam team swimming together. "I was very happy that I was even able to use the camera handheld while half of my body was in the water," he says.

The Tam Tam Basket film crew standing on a basketball court with a group of young players.

Picture quality to match powerful words

"The best moments in the film are by far the candour of the interviews," says Francesca. "Karim is a very shy boy, but on camera he is extremely poetic and effective. King talks about integration and citizenship in such a simple and understandable way, I was amazed by his wisdom and depth. Their voices speak the same language as millions of teenagers around the world who live in similar conditions."

For the interviews, shot environmentally among the semi-destroyed buildings of Villaggio Coppola and around the team's open-air basketball court, Salama shifted from 50fps to 25fps and leaned on Dual Pixel CMOS AF to keep his subjects in crisp focus while using a motorised slider. "The autofocus on the EOS C300 Mark II is amazing," says Francesca. "It's easy to stay in focus even with zoom lenses, by using the small square sign."

Shooting at the height of summer, the crew had both hot temperatures and bright sunshine to contend with. The camera's wide sensitivity range of up to ISO 102400 (also found on the newer Canon EOS C300 Mark III), coupled with its built-in ND filters, which provide a possible further 10 stops of exposure control (in expansion mode), allowed them to react to changing light conditions – including from the sun's reflections on the water when filming along the coast.

Filming in Canon Log 2 also increased the camera's dynamic range, giving them up to 15 stops to work with. "The dynamic range of the sensor allowed us to get incredible shots, from timelapses on the beach to silhouette shots," says Francesca. "In post-production we found the quality of the files to be excellent, allowing us to work really well on the colours in the grade. The EOS C300 Mark II has everything that a DoP needs." The EOS C300 Mark III takes this image quality a step further, with an innovative DGO sensor that can deliver 16+ stops of dynamic range, and is also compatible with Dual Pixel CMOS AF. The latest model also includes Canon Log 3 and Wide Dynamic Range options for Log recording.

Francesca hopes the audience will be "personally touched" by the Tam Tam team's story. "It is a symbolic, universal film of struggle and empowerment – and a dream that becomes a reality."

Tam Tam Basket won the Best Documentary award at IFF – Integrazione Film Festival (Bergamo, Italy), and has been selected to be screened at the Festival of Migrant Film (Ljubljana, Slovenia). It will be broadcast on Al Jazeera in late 2022, after which it will be released online globally.

Lucy Fulford

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