Soccer Cinema’s Goal: Bring Game to Rural South Africans

BY Tom LeGro  May 19, 2010 at 1:08 PM EDT

The second in a series of stories about the upcoming World Cup in South Africa, which begins June 11. Last week, Art Beat looked at the Diski, a dance created just for the World Cup.

Much of the world will be watching the FIFA World Cup next month, but distance and money will prevent millions of actual South Africans from getting to see the tournament while it takes place in their own country.

2010 World CupThat’s why South African documentary filmmaker Don Edkins created Soccer Cinema, a traveling theater that has been screening soccer-themed films in small communities all over the country since April.

“The vast majority of South Africans will not have much to gain from the World Cup,” Edkins says. “Some of these people have never seen a film before, and watching it does make them feel part of it all — it makes them feel they haven’t been neglected.”

Through June 2, the Soccer Cinema minibus — carrying a projector, a DVD player, a screen, 12 films, and several crew members — will trek along South Africa’s highways. At each location they will meet between 100 to 1,000 spectators, many of whom have to walk miles to see the films. Afterwards most will stay and participate in a moderated discussion on everything from key figures and moments from the history of the sport to broad ranging cultural issues.

(Watch two of the films after the jump.)

The miniature film festival starts with “The Ball,” a five-minute piece that depicts boys in Mozambique who make soccer balls out of inflated condoms, string and cloth.

Some of the films’ themes are already familiar to South Africans. “More than Just a Game,” for example, depicts the team formed by political prisoners on Robben Island in the 1960s. The lighthearted “Soccer Muti FC” follows a priest in South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal province who uses ritual medicine to help his team’s players on the field.

Other short films delve into international subjects. “The Game of Their Lives,” by British director Daniel Gordon, tells the story of the surviving members of the 1966 North Korean soccer team that famously knocked Italy from the World Cup finals in England.

South African director Naashon Zalk examines the impact of Didier Drogba, the successful forward who plays for Chelsea in the English Premier League who took his home country of Ivory Coast to its first World Cup qualifier in 2006. Using his tremendous popularity as a launch point, Drogba became an advocate for peace and reconciliation in Ivory Coast.

“It’s a story that very few people know — soccer players being instrumental and bringing peace to a country involved in a civil war. I just think it’s a sort of wonderful African story,” Zalk says. “When a personality comes along that has some social conscious, it can make a difference in the world.”

Edkins hopes the documentary format will make a lasting impression on his audiences — perhaps more so than a fictionalized narrative, or even a live match.

“What we are doing with documentary film is talking about real people, real events. We can talk about what it means to work on peace-building exercises or conflict resolution or why women are not allowed into soccer stadiums in Iran,” Edkins says. “And that’s where a film screening becomes more than a film screening — it becomes a learning experience.”