An international soccer project come to the screen

by Keith Barber

Uyuni, Bolivia. (courtesy photo) An international soccer project come to the screen

Ryan White, director of the independent documentary Pelada about pick-up soccer culture around the world, couldn’t make it to the screening of his film last Thursday at Krankies Coffee in Winston-Salem. So instead he took questions from the audience following the film via Skype — or at least attempted to. The connection between Krankies and what appeared to be White’s office or bedroom was unstable, resulting in a Q&A session akin to watching YouTube on a dial-up modem. White’s feed cut in and out constantly, making his responses nearly indecipherable. As a result most of the audience filed out before the end of the ill-fated session, discarding their cans and plastic cups as they went out the door.

Modern technological mishaps aside, the free screening of Pelada as part of the Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art’s and Krankies’ Art Grind Film Series, successfully showcased the type of grassroots passion for the game that will not have a place in the coverage and advertising for the upcoming World Cup.

A sizable audience of all ages turned out for the film. Iced coffee and 22-ounce Pabst Blue Ribbons were the beverages of choice.

The film follows two 20-something, former collegiate soccer players — Luke Boughen and Gwendolyn Oxenham — on their 25 country search for soccer’s pulse. Pelada explores the futbol culture that exists far away from the massive arenas, bright lights, chants and hooligans.

Pelada director Ryan White said via Skype after the screening, “We found that the best games were often played in the most dangerous neighborhoods.” Pick-up games in the film happened on makeshift fields in the slums of South America, Africa and the Middle East, artificial rooftop fields in urban Asia and pastoral fields in Europe. The most notable games included a midnight contest between Palestinians and Jews in Jerusalem, a game in the notorious San Pedro prison in La Paz, Bolivia and an illegal women’s game in Tehran.

Pelada — which means “naked” in Brazil — strikes a similar chord as other sports and travel treatises such as classic surfing film

The Endless Summer and Heaven Is A Playground, Rick Telander’s love letter to playground hoops, in that Boughen and Oxenham search for the essence of the game itself aside from its commercialized product. The closest that they get to futbol’s grand stages is when they buy tickets to Euro 2008 in Austria only to find out that they are counterfeit and later when they play with workers building a new stadium for the World Cup in South Africa during their lunch break.

Both Boughen and Oxenham are former collegiate stars — Notre Dame and Duke, respectively — who despite being excellent players, couldn’t make it at the professional level. Their skills served them well as at least in the edited footage of the games; they held their own on the field, dirt or pavement better than typical American tourists with expensive cameras. Both expressed at various points that the adrenaline and excitement in hotly contested pickup games was comparable to playing at the highest level of American collegiate soccer.

The Art Grind Film Series is a collaboration between SECCA and Krankies that takes place the first Thursday of every month. SECCA Curator of Education Michael Christiano emceed the screening and said afterward that the Art Grind Series seeks to engage a local audience with art in all manifestations and mediums. “We want to connect and build communication through collaboration,” said Christiano.

Next month’s screening will exemplify Christiano’s goal for the Art Grind Series. Rip: A Remix Manifesto will showcase the issues surrounding copyright infringement and piracy in regards to downloaded music and film used in mash-ups and remixes. Mash-up artist Greg Gillis, better known as Girl Talk, will be featured prominently in the film. Brett Gaylor, the film’s director, made the film available to download online for other people to remix and re-edit, in an effort to demonstrate how people can transform media and make their own creations rather than simply passively consuming media. Some remixes of the film will be shown at the free screening on July 1 at Krankies at 7 p.m.