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K & S Interview with Greg Hotaling, Director of In the Blood

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Kicking & Screening talks with Greg Hotaling, Director of In the Blood (Screening as part of the soccer shorts program on 4/24)

In the Blood documents the real-life struggles and triumphs of a lower division soccer team and its rabid supporters in working class England. As Brentford F.C.’s season builds to a do-or-die match of huge implications, the town of Brentford itself confronts hard realities which threaten its very identity, anchored in its century-old stadium. Faced with indifferent elected leaders in Brentford, die-hard fans decide that the only way to save their beloved team is to run for office themselves. In doing so, they demonstrate the depth of passion for their local team and for a sense of community: it’s in the blood.

When /how did you first come to love soccer?

Having played in school and followed the game casually as a kid growing up in Washington DC, I enjoyed soccer like other sports. But then you grow out of it: things like the Super Bowl, pennant races and the European Cup become unimportant in the grand scheme of life.

I rediscovered the global game in the 90s, as Ronaldo was lighting up Europe, Eric Cantona ruling as King of England, and France prepping for World Cup ’98. All of the leagues, the divisions, the nationalities, the tournaments… it dwarfs anything we have here in the U.S., and I began to see in the game something more than a sport with athletes and rules. It’s the world’s common sport; its common language, in a sense. But it also remains a forum in which cultures, represented most visibly by their national teams, can and do express their own identity. In short, I saw the beauty in the beautiful game!

How did you come across the story?

Having just left my job, I was in London crashing at a buddy’s place for a few months, taking in soccer matches and trying to size up the passion for the lower divisions, which I thought might make a good short film. In Brentford I came across a weary young guy posting a sign that read “Vote for Luke Kirton”. He told me the whole story of the club’s plight, and of the fans’ campaign to fight the Labour Party and get one of their own, Luke Kirton, elected in Brentford. I figured it would be an uphill battle for this weary guy because he in fact was Luke Kirton!

Without knowing what would happen, what gave you a sense this was something that would turn out to be so interesting to follow?

What stuck out is the fans’ campaign for political office. You have supporter passion throughout the lower divisions, but the political campaign in Brentford was tangible evidence of a real community effort, which would make the film accessible to non-soccer fans.

What were some of the biggest challenges you faced during filming?

One big challenge was getting the story. Since my film is a documentary about unfolding events happening live, I didn’t have the luxury of setting up shots, doing re-takes or changing tactics. As the cameraman, interviewer and filmmaker, I always had to be in the right place at the right time, and fully prepared from both a technical and a conceptual standpoint. Doing it in a foreign country added to the challenge.

Another big hurdle was access, both to organizations and people. Having neither a big budget nor mainstream press credentials, I really couldn’t be sure that my filming at Brentford FC facilities, or at local government hearings, or at fan club meetings, would be permitted by them. The same goes for the individual fans, politicians, players and club officials, any of whom could have — and sometimes did — blow me off. Often it was a combination of persistence, sweet talk and just plain luck that got me through the door.

Can you imagine another sport inspiring such loyalty and action?

Well lots of sports have their die-hard followers. But tattoos might decide the issue… for what other sport do you see so many people tattoo themselves with the name of their club? Soccer is crazy.

What were the players’ reactions to the supporters?

In a general sense the players recognized Brentford as a small club: they appreciated what support they got, but knew it wasn’t a West Ham or Chelsea. Remember that most of these players, unlike their fans, are hoping that Brentford is just a stop on the way to bigger clubs. Having said that, most Bees players were very accessible to their fans, often chatting with them after matches at the stadium pub.

Of course, many of these chats touched on the future of the club, and its precarious financial situation, and the efforts of the ABeeC Party. So the players, being very much aware of the trouble the club faced financially, faced all the more pressure in their contest for promotion to the more lucrative Division One.

Greg Hotaling grew up in Washington DC and eventually settled in New York City, practicing law and feeding his interest in both film and soccer. “In the Blood” is his first effort, which he shot, produced and directed.

Posted April 15, 2010 by Brittany Bishop
Filed under BLOG, Kicking & Screening Soccer Film Fest
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K & S Interview: 90 Minutes director Ab Winsemius

Kicking & Screening talks with Ab Winsemius, director of 90 Minutes, screening at MASS MoCA on April 24, as part of the Kicking & Screening Soccer Film Fest.

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What inspired you to film in the US , not known for its soccer fervor compared to the rest of the world?

I “heart” NYC and I “heart” fpptball – that’s the most important inspiration. I’ve played football with and against numerous nationalities ever since I arrived in NYC in 2002. It’s amazing. If you like football, you have to love it here. You can’t really equate NYC to the rest of the US. Back in November 2005, I was reading some statistics that close to 40% of all New Yorkers were not born in the US. Six out of ten babies born in New York, have at least one foreign parent. There are over 185 different nationalities living in the city. That’s amazing. In preparing for the documentary we found that there were 20 Latin American leagues alone in NYC. We got to about 40 different leagues in our research. Another major source of inspiration was a book called “Football Against the Enemy” by Simon Kuper, a journalist and columnist for the Financial Times. In this book he presents stories from all over the world that each in their own way express how football is a reflection of society and vice versa. I felt I could tell that story within the city of New York. So when I found myself spending my evenings in a hotel lobby in LA for two months for work in early 2006, I started writing a treatment, largely based on Simon Kuper’s book. Based on these stories and some basic research into the countries that participated in the World Cup, I wrote profiles of the characters I wanted to find for each country. Then we took a culinary guide to international cuisines in NYC and took to the streets to find football fans from all 32 countries.

Were you surprised by the allegiances to “home countries”, by even second and third generation Americans, when watching the World Cup?

Not at all. Being a foreigner myself, I completely understand how much more important your nationality is to your identity when you’re outside of your own country. Makes sense right? If everyone is Dutch, who cares about you being Dutch? But when nobody else is Dutch, you are more Dutch than you’ve ever been before, whether you like it or not. I think that sense of identity might become even more significant to second or third generation Americans.

Did you encounter any immigrants who were rooting for the US or other countries, irrespective of how their own, home country was playing in the Cup?

Yes – all the time. First of all, there were of course tons of football fans from countries that hadn’t qualified for the World Cup. They tend to adopt one or two favorite teams based on history, playing style, and in the case of smaller countries, geographical proximity. For instance, in the film our Mexican character, Felipe, states minutes after Mexico got knocked out of the tournament by Argentina, that he now supports any other South American country and even the US, because I feels he is American. All our African characters also root for the other African countries, because they feel they are a small force in the world and want to show the world that they can take a stand and be a force to be reckoned with. Their lack of success in other areas on a global scale completely unites them

Is it a paradox? On one hand, the World Cup brings so many together, yet at the same time loyalties seem to stay on cultural and national lines.

Yes.  It’s true that it provides a topic of conversation allowing you to speak to anyone. And it definitely opens doors, as we noticed when we starting approaching people to participate in the movie. It also provides a great podium for the world to discuss topics such as racism and equality.  However, the conversation tends to be fairly shallow when pertaining to the World Cup. Our Tunisian character mentioned that it doesn’t help the world to let two countries play against each other in a stadium filled with thousands and thousands of fans, because something gets lost in the audience when people are only encouraged to increase their sense of national identity and chew their opposition out. He said: “Football can only help the world if we let thousands of Jews play football against thousands of Muslims” And he’s right. It’s the opposite of what happens in a stadium. On a pitch, you don’t get lost in mass hysteria, often with many negative excesses. On a pitch you’re very much an individual playing with and against other individuals. If you play the game often enough you get to really know and understand the other individuals out there.

What was most surprising to you as revealed during filming?

This may sound a bit obvious at first, but I wish everybody could experience this for themselves. New York is home to an amazing amount of amazing little societies. Each completely self-sufficient and successful, yet fairly segregated from each other. They interact and are all very curious about each other but they still find it hard to mingle. There are obvious examples of the Italian community down their in Bayridge. Beautiful, passionate people. But our Ghanaian character Kofi introduced us to the Ashinti tribe. Did you know there are 10.000 Ashanti’s in The Bronx?  They have a fully functional tribe structure, including job agencies, tax services, lawyers, banks and everything. Absolutely amazing and from what we could see, super successful. Same goes for our Ivorian and Angolan characters. It is absolutely amazing to experience how all these societies from all these different countries bring their own culture and habits along and it’s all right there on such a relatively small piece of earth. These are the real American Dreams to me. Not the rags to riches of a poor immigrant that made it big in electronics, but these small societies that make it all happen together and help each other to live happy, successful lives. Sorry, I got a little sentimental there, but I encourage everyone – football fans and non-fans – to just take one summer Saturday afternoon and go to soccer pitches in Red Hook. Around those two pitches you can eat and drink your way from Argentina to Mexico. It is sublime.

Were there any extreme stories of fans? Do fans have any superstitions about watching?

There were a lot of extreme stories and all of them very different. Some people wear the same underwear on game day without washing until their team loses. Others walk out of every room backwards on game day. One story about an extreme football fan, that touched me very much was our Serbian character, Dushan. In Belgrade he was an Ultra, an extreme hardcore fan of Red Star Belgrade. During the Miloševi?’ regime, one of Miloševi?’s ally’s, a mobster called Arkan, recruited guerillas directly from the terraces of Red Star Belgrade. They had tried to recruit Dushan as well. Fortunately, Dushan’s dad saw what was happening and helped him apply for a green card, which he won. The Arkan Tiger’s later carried out all the dirty work for Milosovitsch. They were responsible for the biggest part of the genocide that took place there. Dushan knew many of them. He got away, became a barman in NYC, opened a very successful place called Employees Only, and even placed second at the World Bartending Championships.

Posted April 1, 2010 by Brittany Bishop
Filed under BLOG, Film, Kicking & Screening Soccer Film Fest
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K&S Interview: Mauro Shampoo director Cunha Lima

Rachel Markus, Director of Kicking & Screening,  sent us interviews with several of the  filmmakers whose work is being shown as part of the Kicking & Screening Soccer Film Fest at MASS MoCA on April 23 & 24. First up is Leonardo Cunha Lima, director of “Mauro Shampoo: Soccer Player Hairdresser and Macho,” screening as part of the Soccer Shorts on April 24.

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How did you find out about Mauro Shampoo?

It is an interesting tale because I was borne in Recife, the city where Mauro and the Ibis football team are from. But I had never heard about them while I lived there. During the 80’s when Ibis became famous for loosing during three consecutive years, I was in England where my parents were doing their PhDs. Later I moved to Rio de Janeiro to attend film school, and one night I was telling a friend about what kind of film I would like to make. Tim Burton had just made his Ed Wood film about the worst American filmmaker, and I told this friend that the right thing to do would be to make a film about football as its the only thing that all Brazilians love, but that I would not be keen to make a film about the best Brazilian team or player or the World Cup, like the films that everyone else was making. My football film would be about the worst team ever. My friend then just smiled and said, yeah like making a film about Ibis would be funny. That was the first time I heard about the team. When I urged him to tell me more about Ibis, the story just blew by mind. Here was a perfect subject for a documentary about Brazil and football, a rather funny and at the same time moving picture about the true Brazil and as it would be about football everyone, would be interested in seeing it. I could not believe that no one had ever done a documentary about it yet. At the time I was living in Rio de Janeiro, which was very far from Recife, so I waited for the right time to be able to go back to Recife to make the film. This little wait took around 10 years, and in the meantime I meet Paulo and for whom I worked as an AD in a short film and when I told about the Ibis project we decided to make it together.

We first heard about Mauro Thorp while viewing old Globo News broadcasts about the Ibis as research material for the feature documentary we intended to make about the team. Mauro Shampoo was incredibly funny, and we realized we had our star for the feature. In the end we were not able to lock down the financing to make a feature film. That’s when I told Paulo that we should just go to Recife by ourselves to make the necessary connections and conduct on-site research about the team as we were dealing with an utterly unwritten history. My main idea was actually to make a short film along side the research thereby making the unfinanced trip worthwhile. By shooting a short film about Mauro Shampoo, which later we could use as part of the feature film and the possible subsequent success of the short in international film festivals could be used to get funding for the feature documentary about the Ibis Sport Club. I arrived in Recife and took a borrowed camera to film the preliminary interview with Mauro, just so we would have an audio record of his story to later plan the film around it. But this first interview was so electrifying that we could not recreate that first spark again, so most of the film’s scenes of him in his barber salon talking to the camera were taken from that very first meeting.

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Posted March 18, 2010 by Brittany Bishop
Filed under BLOG, Kicking & Screening Soccer Film Fest
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