Tonight was the first night of the Kicking and Screening film festival in Tribeca (previously discussed here), meaning I was not only on my best behavior (I didn’t scream things at the screen a single time–I must be getting old), but I was also taking notes on the movies and thinking as intelligently as I could about topics covered in the panel discussion. I burned a lot of calories doing it, I can assure you; I can see why all these movie reviewers are so fit.
Each night has a different title that covers the entirety of the night’s offering and Opening Night’s was “The 12th Man” which, of course, is all of us. The panel discussion with Simon Kuper (author of Soccernomics and Soccer Against the Enemy), David Kirby (director of the nights feature film, discussed below), and Simon Borg was fascinating as it pitted Kuper’s Dutch intellectual views versus the more passionate supports. They were moderated and prompted by K&S founder Greg Lalas (yes, brother of that Lalas) and ended up discussing various aspects of fandom at length. Naturally there’s a lot more to the discussion than the 45 minutes they were allotted would allow, but I think there were some really good points made that are worth going over before we talk about the films, which are, naturally, heavily related to the concepts discussed.
David Kirby kick-started the whole thing by talking about how he’s been a Liverpool fan since he was 7 or 8 and first went to Anfield and experienced the rapturous joy of the screaming fans. He talked for a while about how it brings you closer to your own town, your mates, yourself and he went on about how the history is there, how you live it, love it, and are just so into it: passion, passion, and then, after that, how’s about some passion? After he had talked for about 5 minutes, Greg pointed out that he had yet to mention, you know, the ball in play. Simon Borg jumped in to say that it was about the connections you make with the club, both emotional (the way you feel about the club) and physical (the symbols, stadiums, and chants).
Simon Kuper made it a two-sided conversation by pointing out that both Kirby (a native Liverpudlian) and Borg (a Maltese New Yorker) were being very British in their approach; the Dutch, instead of caring so much about the “We’re from Liverpool/Manchester/wherever” connection to their clubs, are far more interested in actually playing the game and go to watch the game more to think and learn about it than to cheer with unadulterated partisanship. That is, indeed, quite a different concept than the “we drink and scream” approach of many fans, but it comes down to culture. Kuper wasn’t saying that the British were wrong in their approach, but rather that they were different.
They also discussed how the game has changed over the years and how that has changed how fans approach the game. In England, there’s a much smaller lower class and a much larger middle class now than there was 30 years ago. Kirby was a nice guy–not a diehard “you can only love Liverpool one way” kind of guy–and he copped to the brilliance of Kuper’s point that it was somewhat ironic that Kirby was talking about “today’s fans” as being middle class and unconnected to the club’s working class roots while he, a playwright by trade, was in New York City’s Tribeca to talk about the feature film he’d written and directed.
The first movie we saw, Loucos de Futebol, a Brazilian film by Halder Gomes, focused on the fans of Fortaleza EC. It was, just to say it straight up, a fantastic movie. I’m the type of guy that can’t get enough of documentaries showing various fan groups chanting away, but this one also came with funny commentary and well-placed looks at the little absurdities that makes up the totality of a massive fan base. I don’t know much about Brazilian football, really, but it looks like it’s as passionate as anywhere else in the world. The film went (quickly) through the day of the Leão (Lions) faithful as they gear up for and then experience their derby match against arch rivals Ceará SC at their impressive, shared stadium: Castelão. The fans in it were devoted until death in the very classic sense: they could name random players from 30 years ago, but couldn’t name the president of Brazil (Lula, btw). Because I’m more of the Dutch style of fan, I care more about watching the game than chanting about the opposing fan’s sexual orientation, but I still love watching these rowdies do their thing.
Film Grade: 8 out of 10. Totally worth your time. It was funny, informative, and impressively detailed for being so short. I don’t know if film nerds will enjoy the shot selection like I did, but I thought it was intelligently done.
The feature film was Fifteen Minutes That Shook the World (2009), directed by David Kirby and starring, among others, Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher (whose father was also in it and was in attendance). The opening shot was a beautiful panorama of Istanbul at sunset; it was followed by Milan scoring 3 times in the opening half of the 2005 Champions League final; but the seriousness that those images evoked was quickly dispelled by a cartoonish newsman’s entrance. From there it snowballs into a comedic documentary–a comementary? I don’t think it falls into mocumentary, exactly–in which Liverpool is deified and various grudges are if not settled then at least driven home by negative stereotypes of Everton fans (hicks whose children only say “red shite” and have no teeth), Alex Ferguson (a hard-drinking, gum-chewing, kilt-wearing Scot in his office), Gary Neville (introduced as “Rat Boy” and indeed he lives in the sewer, or at least a very dingy alley, and drinks rat poison when Shevchenko misses his penalty and Liverpool win the CL), and, just to say hi at the end, Michael Owen crying into his hands while wearing an RM shirt and being derided by his WAG for being so sulky: “At least you’re not playing for Man United!”
The 15 minutes in the title is the halftime talk the Rafa Benitez supposedly gave to the team. It’s a bunch of mayhem and caricatures of the players (only Gerrard and Carragher get out of it, really), which is fun to see, but it’s a bit tedious at times. It’s a lot of insider jokes that most movie goers wouldn’t get, which just happens to be something I enjoy (at least when I get the jokes, I guess), but doesn’t make it as accessible to the general viewer as it could have been. Still, it’s witty and well shot throughout. Kirby seems to have a knack for understatement (is that just a general English thing, though?), such as when the Everton fans barricade themselves behind overturned tables while waiting for Sheva’s eventual miss. That contrasts at time with the heavy-handed treatment of Man United as a devilish team (to the point where Ferguson’s office is in a red-lit basement room that cannot be mistaken for anything but hell)–and yes, before you say it, I know they’re the Red Devils. Shh.
Film Grade: 6 of 10. Perhaps it was expectations that it would be less comedy or at least more subtle, but something didn’t sit right with me about the film. It was ostensibly about the fans (the newsman goes around interviewing people), but doesn’t do much in term of explaining anything about the hatreds he “uncovers” and the interviews of Liverpool fans are sadly short. Still, if you haven’t seen much English humor mixed with football, it’s worth your time to at least get a slightly better understanding of how the two could possibly go together. And no, before you ask, I don’t know why the skeezy Arab video dealer had to be gay or what that had to do with his ability to sit idly by sucking on a hookah while an under-the-table deal wen down next to him.
The final film, Because There Are Things You Never Forget (2008), directed by Lucas Figueroa was more about the act of playing the game than about being a fan, but it invokes the meaning of the game for many people: it is everything. The major problem with this film was that there were no subtitles and my Italian being what it is (vague to non-existent), it was hard to follow along. It starts with a shot inside a prison where, I think, a prisoner tells us the point of the movie in some way or another–certainly he says something–and then the camera swoops out the window and down to a small Italian town where four boys are playing soccer. They end up kicking a ball into an old woman’s garden and instead of simply returning it, she stabs their ball with her knitting needles and deflates it. They have been, of course, kicking the ball repeatedly against her wall and she’s sick of it. Plus, they broke one of her flower pots.
Film Grade: N/A. Without the subtitles I was too lost. For instance: it ends with a shot from “30 years later” (I think) in which Fabio Cannavaro is talking to a guy who is obviously the kid who kicked the ball into the garden all those decades ago, but was Canna one of them? No clue. The ultimate meaning–that the ball is important because the game is more meaningful than just another pastime–is fairly obvious, but the subtleties that make something worthwhile (or not) was missing thanks to the lack of translation.
So that was night 1. I was far more agog with starstruck crap by Simon Kuper than I was by Jamie Carragher’s da’, but hey, that’s the life of a nerd, isn’t it? Maybe tomorrow I’ll fall for another big name journo’s high-minded talk…
Speaking of, tomorrow is night 2, which features The Last Yugoslavian Football Team. You can read the description here. I’m looking forward to hearing form Siniša Mihajlović, who remains one of the iconic players from my personal past–did the guy do anything other than score via freekicks?
Annie, K&S’s press officer, wanted me to push Eine Andere Liga and while I’m kind of a pushover on such things, I did actually buy a ticket for my lady as well, because this is about football and breast cancer and that, folks, is fucking important. Coming from a family with multiple breast cancer survivors makes me a little more likely to emotionally connect with a movie about that subject (if it were pancreatic cancer, for instance, it probably wouldn’t have the same effect) and want to raise awareness about it, but I’m also expecting this to be about the Turkish minority in Germany, the role of women in the sport, and identity in general. We are this game and this game is us, after all. And you all know me well enough by now to know I’m a total pushover when it comes to that level of discussion about our favorite sport.
So if you’re in NYC or the surrounding area, come to one of the shows and check it out (tickets here; remember some of the profits go to Play31). Barça fans will love El Arbitro since it’s about, well, Barça, which shows on Thursday, but every day has something. And if you’ll be there, do let me know because I’ll meet up with you as I did with reader Sam (who sells some nice shirts on his website, which has nothing to do, as far as I know, with K&S) and we’ll have a drink cause they have a bar! Wooo!