Dir. Rebakah Fergusson, Ryan White, Luke Boughen, Gwendolyn Oxenham (2010, USA, 92 mins.)
These filmmakers have a theory: the most compelling soccer isn’t played beneath bright lights in big stadiums – rather, it is played between friends and strangers, in back alleys and local fields, for nothing more than passion for sport and love of the game. This theory in mind, the filmmakers then travelled around the world with a camera, looking for pick-up games. The result is one of the most surprisingly compelling and beautiful soccer films ever made.
Pelada is disarmingly personal. Filmmakers Luke Boughen and Gwendolyn Oxenham are self-described ‘failures’ who were on track to become great soccer players (both were college stars; Luke played for Notre Dame) but just never made it. They conceived of this film as a way to stay involved with the sport they love; this incredible love for the game translates onto the screen in a way few films manage. The two both star in and narrate their travels. Usually, that sort of thing smacks of self-involvement. In Pelada, it works. Luke and Gwendolyn’s humble honesty is charming, and their personal story, unlike countless other filmmakers, is engrossing.
Like many other successful documentary filmmakers, Luke and Gwendolyn have an uncanny talent for convincing people to tell their stories. They talk (and bribe) their way into a prison in Bolivia to play with prisoners. They meet with Jews and Arabs in Israel who play on the same court but are unwilling to play on the same team. They find a weekly tournament in a slum in Kenya. The ingenuity of these filmmakers is incredible, given that they arrive in these places with little more than backpacks and a camera.
Some elements of the film are a bit rough. The narrative isn’t always smooth. The cuts aren’t always crisp. However, these little imperfections do nothing but add to the experience. Clearly, soccer is more important than film technique for these filmmakers, and it is refreshing to see something so genuine.
Pelada is required viewing for everyone who loves soccer, and for anyone who has wondered why love for soccer crosses nations, classes, and religions in a way that nothing else does.