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‚Äô 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.