The movie, which debuts at the prestigious South by Southwest Film Festival in Austin, Tex., on March 14, is a testament to the power of the world’s game to dissolve the boundaries of gender, language and culture. Armed with a ball and a thirst for adventure, the Americans bribe their way into a Bolivian prison game, play for money in a Nairobi slum tournament and test the limits of Iranian authorities when Oxenham joins an all-male game in Tehran.
But what elevates Pelada from a cute highlight travelogue to something more resonant is the filmmakers’ ability to find compelling stories and earn the trust of their interview subjects. “Once you play a game with someone, interview doesn’t seem like the appropriate word,” says Oxenham. “There’s this level of intimacy that you don’t get if you don’t play soccer. Every place we went, you’re then invited into their homes. Everyone’s mother wants to cook for you.”
“[Playing soccer] would change the situation from being an outsider having an interview with them to having a conversation with a friend,” adds Boughen.
The result is a film that combines eye-popping cinematography (by co-directors Rebekah Fergusson and Ryan White) with human stories: the dreams of a teenage Brazilian girl nicknamed Ronaldinha; a lunchtime kickabout among workers building the Cape Town World Cup stadium; and an Italian writer who pens love poems to the sport. A tense game between Arabs and Jews in Jerusalem reveals the benefits (and very real challenges) that come with the sport.
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