The Kicking and Screening Film Festival opened in New York last night with a look at the issue of identity. Each night beginning Tuesday, the festival will explore an aspect of soccer culture through films that focus on a central theme. Today, the theme is Coaches, Thursday, Inspiration — and Friday, Brazil.
The first film on last night’s program was from the series produced by Fox and sponsored by Budweiser, a campaign known as Rise as One. The film, entitled Rise as One: One Nation explored the issues of identity in France during the lead up to the 1998 World Cup. Jean-Marie Le Pen, a presidential candidate, was running on a ‘purist’ platform that stood against the composition of the French National Team. Through Lilian Thuram, born in Guadeloupe, Zinedine Zidane, a son of Algerian immigrants, and Youri Djorkaeff, a son of a Polish father and Armenian mother and both immigrants to France, the film looks at what it means to be French.
But the run time of 22 minutes makes it hard to delve deeply into the issues. Instead, it is a cursory glance at what identity means, at who we think ‘belongs’ and who we then discover does belong, at who in fact leads the hearts and minds of a nation in victory and changes a nation’s thought process. It was a “wave of love and friendliness like after the war ended,” says Djorkaeff on winning the final in France, and indeed the celebrations in the film’s footage were strikingly similar between those of their World Cup victory and the end of World War II.
What is not looked at is how the nation would have reacted to a loss, or to an early exit from the competition. To back a winner and, from the pedestal of the World Cup trophy, become more tolerant is one thing. To see a nation forced to look deeply into its identity and challenge itself to change without the impetus of world soccer domination is another. How different would France now be had they not won is perhaps purely speculation, but an interesting consideration.
Far more deeply explored is the concept of identity as shown in the second film of the evening, 1905′ers With Heart, Mind and Soul. Faith, they say, is a belief in things unseen. This film is a look at a group of fans who kept on believing in a club, even when it went out of existence. It is a look at a group of people who came together from diverse backgrounds and found themselves supporting a team for a variety of reasons, but together formed a core of believers that chased after the question of what it means to be a part of something that unites them as a whole. There is something about the small town of Gottingen, and a team in the lowest divisions of German football that drew laughs from the audience, and it could be easy to throw around words like ‘charming’ and ‘ rural’, to act the part of the jaded New Yorker, but it would be wrong. It is a film to be watched with both the heart and the mind. There is a thread here that is important to anyone calling themselves a fan. There is a sense of the deeply personal, of the creation of an identity that goes against the thread of hooliganism and confronts it with what they label ‘Fooligans’. To see a destructive trend and ignore it is a fan’s dilemma. “Do we take the kids,” we ask ourselves when we know we are going to be in a situation that might present us and them to something we are not certain they should see, or even worse that could be dangerous. The Fooligans combated the intolerance of racism, sexism, and even sexual politics with an intolerance of intolerance. They marked the grounds as theirs.
But beyond the reach of their decision to take a stand, they stood together through relegation, promotion, the loss of a team, the changing of grounds. They grew together as people who believed in what they stood in the terraces for – each other and their team.
This is the Sixth year of the Kicking and Screening Film Festival, now running at the Tribeca Cinema in Manhattan. Films begin at 7:30 each night, and tickets are available through www.Kickingandscreening.com.