16 Nov 2016 “Born To Lead: The Sal Aunese Story” Premieres at 34th Milano Int’l FICTS Fest
It was 1989 when University of Colorado’s star quarterback, Sal Aunese lost his battle with cancer. But Sal, our first Samoan college football quarterback, lived his 21 years to the fullest, staying connected to his team and propelling them to greatness even after his passing.
When the filmmakers reached out to me about this documentary, it resonated on many levels, not least of which was a cathartic one. Only one year earlier, I had lost five people to cancer, including my mother. I was still raw with grief, processing loss on a scale that I had never imagined possible. It seemed like cancer was a theme that was haunting and following me, and I felt the pull to examine that. Thinking about Sal’s journey not only added to the many anguished “whys?” I had uttered over the course of a year, but as someone outside the sports community, it made me want to know Sal and honor him.
Director, Lara Slife and producer, George Antonopoulos, spent many years passionately committed to bringing Sal’s story to light. When we first met, Lara had a strong creative vision for the film and the music. With an almost finished rough cut, she and George filled me in on the history of the project, and asked me not just to score the film, but to help get their picture “locked.” As an objective eye on a story that they both lived through, I helped them complete the editing of the film through the lens of someone who was coming fresh to college football, and to Sal’s unique story.
Born To Lead gave me another opportunity to support a woman director and to put together an all woman music post production team. It felt especially good to buck stereotypes for a film that is anything but girlie.
And it felt good to shine a light on an underrepresented culture through the story of a young American Samoan. Sal’s natural flair for unifying, and, as my British friends would say, sticking “two fingers up” to racism, left a positive mark on everyone he came into contact with. The themes of the film are so universal and moving that its appeal transcends that of a “sports doc”, and for all these reasons, I’m proud to also be a co-producer of Born To Lead.
The intimate, candid and heartfelt anecdotes about this exceptional athlete shared by coaches, family, friends and teammates, drew me into Sal’s world. And it was uplifting to discover that despite his illness, Sal’s life was no grief-fest. The film highlights Sal’s upbeat, youthful energy, his fearless, running quarterback’s touchdowns, his cheeky cleverness, his love of his extended family and community, his struggles with education/sports politics, his camaraderie with teammates and an inspirational legacy that is evident to this day, more than twenty-seven years later.
On November 21st “Born To Lead: The Sal Aunese Story” won Best First Feature Documentary at the 34th Milano International FICTS Fest 2016 after its screening on November 20th.
~To all of the following: As I scored Born To Lead, I felt you and was inspired by you: Sal Aunese, Ray Aunese, Ruta Aunese, Opo Aunese, Sonny Aunese, Joe Aunese, Junior Seau, Okland Salavea, JJ Flannigan, Darian Hagan, Eric Bienemy, Jeff Campbell, Tim James, Charles Johnson, Brian Bosworth, Roger Price, Chris Fowler, Dr. Wayne Gersoff, Bill McCartney, Dick Haines, Les Miles, Gary Barnett, Tom Osbourne,Lou Holtz, T.C. McCartney, Kristy McCartney. Grateful for having met and connected with many of you. Rest in Peace, Toluiva Aunese~