Last night I attended Night 2 of the Kicking and Screening film festival in Tribeca Cinemas here in NYC (previous parts here and here, tickets here). The previous night was about fans, about the passion for the game that we all have, but last night was a more somber affair. I don’t really know if he’s the one that said it first or not, but it’s certainly attributed by history to William Tecumseh Sherman: “War is Hell.”
And that it most certainly is. The night started with a short, Ana’s Playground (2009, dir: Eric Howell), centering on an unnamed city where a girl and three friends are playing soccer in the cold of winter by shooting against a wall. Ana is the goalie. Their gritty surroundings–a burned out car, shrapnel-torn buildings–were very reminiscent of scenes from the Balkans during the tumultuous 1990s. They are interrupted by gunfire and dive into the burned out car as a truck filled with assault-rifle-wielding men careens around the corner and fills their soccer field with a dead body and dozens of bullet casings. When the firing stops, the children continue playing, only glancing at the dead body, hardly registering it. They kick the casings out of the way and line up another shot on goal.
The ball flies over a wall and the fear is evident on their faces as the children flip coins to see who has to go get it. It falls to Ana, of course, and she crawls through a break. She finds herself in an open space between buildings in what feels like a different world. Her ball sits near the base of a building across the open space. She hides and it turns out to be a good idea because a sniper begins to fire at her. I don’t want to give away the entire thing, but it suffice to say that it leaves the viewer fairly gutted. Half inspired, half miserable. Children, Howell said in a panel discussion afterwards, losing their souls is the most heart-wrenching thing you can depict. That’s a paraphrase of about 20 minutes of discussion, really, but it’s so very true. The film has elements of soccer throughout it, but what really brings it all home is the anonymity of everyone. There is no defined place, no defined war, no defined culture on display. This isn’t about what “they” go through, but rather what we all go through when war latches on. It is what we do to others, what others do to us. It is humanity and a child represents our ultimate innocence; when that innocence is destroyed, when it is subjugated to the horrors of war, what do we have left?
Film Grade: 7/10. The cinematography was good, but I was a little lost in the allegory in the end, though if the point was to throw me off balance, it achieved that quite well.
The second film is a true documentary: The Last Yugoslav Team (2000, dir: Vuc Janic) covers the history of what happened to the players who made up the core of the Yugoslavian team just prior to the disintegration of the country into the mini states that exist now (Croatia, Slovenia, etc). The main actors are the players who made up the 1987 Youth World Cup (Zvonimir Boban, Robert Prosinečki, Predj Mijatović, Dejan Savićević, and Siniša Mihajlović) and their various stories. They grew up in different parts of the country, but trained together throughout their youth and ended up playing for different countries when Croatia and Yugoslavia were drawn in the Euro2000 qualifying group together.
The film brings up questions: what does war do to interpersonal relationships and how does it affect the principle actors on the international stage? The game can challenge norms or support them, destroy chasms between groups or widen them. The players react in various ways, of course, and the access Janic had was unbelievable. There are moments that make you laugh, moments that make you cringe, and moments that make you wonder why you didn’t study more Balkan history in college. Cause seriously, I got lost a bit. That was the only drawback in the movie, really, and even that was tempered by the inclusion of random facts that cleared up a few of the questions I had. Perhaps it’s unfair of me, though, since I’m a history major who is very serious about studying things for years before saying they know anything about a subject.
Film Grade: 9/10. Loved it. Watch it, people. It’s worth it. Sure, it was made in 2000 and contains “old” 1990s footage that looks ridiculous on our HD TVs, but whatever, it’s brilliant executed and you get to know the players and you understand a lot of their motivations. It is, at least, a starter kit for Balkan soccer history.
After the movies there was a panel discussion that involved the two filmmakers, Adam Spangler of This is American Soccer (as moderator), and Jakob Lund of Play31, the charity K&S is donating a portion of the profits of the film festival to. They spoke about what they were trying to convey–empathy for Howell, peace for Lund, and a myriad of things for Janic)–and I found it fascinating to see 3 people from completely different walks of life bring 3 completely different approaches to the game, yet ending up together talking about roughly the same things (war sucks, soccer can be both good and evil). It was good to hear them and then good to talk to them afterwards in the mini-schmoozefest at the bar. Janic especially struck me as a wonderful fount of information and understanding (he’s a Serb, for the record).
Tonight is HUGE, though. Check this: El Arbitro is playing tonight. You should go. Why? Cause I’ll be there and the film is about a Barça v Espanyol match–er, sorta. It’s about the ref, but whatever, our boys are in it. I’ll be there in my home kit and I’ll be writing wonderful things about it either tonight or early tomorrow. Buy tickets here here here. The film is by Justin Webster, who also made FC Barcelona Confidential, which you should see if you haven’t.
And then on Friday, be there for Eine Andere Liga, a film about a Turkish-German woman with breast cancer whose life revolves around soccer. Sounds, uh, intense. And wonderful. If you live in NYC, you should do this because, really, you have nothing better to do and you want to meet me and see some awesome films. Okay, maybe meeting me isn’t that great, but think of it like a free bonus. Like that 2nd Shamwow completely free…which happens to be consuming alcohol.