The second film to be completed through the Sundance Institute-Skoll Foundation partnership Stories of Change, The Team, will premiere in the U.K. this March. Screening as part of the Human Rights Watch Film Festival in London on Sunday, March 27, the filmmakers Patrick Reed and Peter Raymont will then travel to Oxford University for an official screening during the Skoll World Forum. As the final event on opening night of the Forum, Documentary Film Program Director Cara Mertes will host a post-screening Q&A with the filmmakers and John Marks, the founder of Search for Common Ground. Their film documents the production of an innovative TV soap opera called “The Team,” which follows the struggles of a co-ed multi-ethnic soccer squad to overcome their differences, both on and off the pitch. Conceived after the deadly post-election clashes in 2007, the series promoted positive message of tolerance and cooperation. Below Patrick Reed and Peter Raymont write about their experience of filming this spirited story.
I’ve had the privilege and challenge of making a number of films in Africa, including Shake Hands with the Devil, and Triage. My most recent documentary, The Team, was a return to familiar terrain—in this case, Kenya—but with a very different focus. Instead of following a Western outsider on a pilgrimage back to the past, or on a crusade into the future, here was a present story where Africans played the starring role, active participants instead of passive victims.
It’s often assumed that “Western” audiences have a limited interest in “African” stories—the geographic or emotional divide is too great, too insurmountable. Our experience, however, suggests otherwise. Viewers are engaged by and attracted to stories with real drama, unforgettable characters, and a sense that they are being offered a unique and largely unfiltered entry-point into a world that is both distinct from and common to their own. That being said, there is always some trepidation when you release your film out into the world, going from the rather lonely confines of an edit room, to the naked reality of the big screen, projecting your story, and in some ways yourself, to a room full of strangers. This was recently the case when The Team had its world premiere at the prestigious IDFA Film Festival in Amsterdam, one of only fifteen feature films in competition. There is something surreal and satisfying finally sharing your film with others, hearing their laughter—a first for me among my “African” films—and their tears.
I started this project thinking here would be my first truly positive “African story.” Well, without giving too much away, that was a bit of wishful thinking on my part. In soccer as in life, it’s easy to celebrate a victory but the real test of character is how you react to a loss as painful as a kick to the head, and a blow to the heart. And that, more than anything else, is what our documentary The Team is about.