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FBM Interview Series: The Makers of “Pelada”

(Editor's Note: After its world-premiere at the South By Southwest Music and Film Festival "Pelada" is blowing up across the nation at variety of film festivals and movie theaters. Tonight the movie makes its Los Angeles premiere! Hollywood, baby! Follow the movie on Facebook, Twitter, or their website for locations and showing in your area.)

It's the morning after the world-premiere of their movie at the South By Southwest (SXSW) Film Festival in Austin, Texas. The stars and filmmakers of "Pelada" still have that glow about them that proud parents of a newborn and newlyweds carry on even after the big day has passed them by.

For three years they've traveled to twenty-five countries in search of pick-up soccer, played in dozens, if not hundreds of games, met and heard the stories of countless more people connected to the sport, and all along the way recorded this incredible journey to share it with others. And now after all of their hard work their film and their story will be seen by people all across the world.
 
And if that wasn't reward enough I'm really about to make their morning after.
 
"You guys saved my marriage," I say, greeting the four behind "Pelada"
Luke Boughen, Gwedolyn Oxenham, Rebekah Fergusson, and Ryan White.

The four of them chuckle. The ice is broken.
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I stumbled across "Pelada" almost two years ago when it was still called "The Soccer Project". The story of two former college soccer players chasing the game across the globe sounded fascinating, like something you always wished you could do, but never had the chance, or the courage to do.
 
Sitting in the make-shift theater SXSW constructs in the convention center there's not an open seat to be found. Except for the four in front of me; that's where Luke, Gwedolyn, Rebekah, and Ryan will sit. It feels weird to be sitting behind the people who actually made the movie. I mean, if you were at an art museum staring at a painting and then Picasso was standing next to you what do you do? Can I even get up to go to the bathroom during this thing or is that rude?

I don't go to the bathroom.

Gwedolyn and Luke are the focus of the movie. Rebekah and Ryan stay behind the camera. Both played soccer in college; Gwendolyn for Duke and Luke for Notre Dame. They're faced with the daunting truth that their soccer careers are coming to a screeching halt. They're at a sporting fork-in-the-road and neither of the paths say professional soccer.
 
Of course neither of the paths point to what they do next, but I guess that's what makes this movie so wonderful.
 
Not satisfied with transitioning into the "real-world" they pack their bags and travel the globe in search of pick-up soccer.
 
"Pelada" is the Brazilian word for pick-up. It literally means "naked" and one supposes that a ball, a couple of people, and a bag of tricks is probably the most naked form of soccer. In a sense both Luke and Gwendolyn are completely naked in this film as well. Not literally, of course, but figuratively, as they shamelessly try to enter as many pick-up games as they can on their journey. From beaches in Brazil to a prison in Bolivia. From slums in Argentina to forbidden co-ed games in Iran. From skyscraper rooftops in Japan to a former landfill in Kenya their travels take on the exotic and sometimes dangerous, but always return the comfortable setting that it is still all soccer.
 
So imagine my surprise when I got the chance to sit down with the four minds behind "Pelada". It's an oft used line when you meet famous people that you're stunned at how normal and approachable they are, but since I just watched an hour and a half of the four of them traveling the globe in a way that most can only dream of and speak so eloquently of the sport I so love and now we're sitting over coffee in the lobby of a hotel it's not that outrageous of a suggestion.

Despite their normal-ness their journey is anything but. For the viewer and the soccer fan it's one stunning shot and amazing story after another. The movie is like a fantastic soccer match in itself; end-to-end action leaving one extremely satisfied.

"Interesting situations bring out interesting stories and interesting characters," Fergusson says when I ask whether or not they purposely sought out the fascinating and, sometimes, dangerous storylines that are included in the film.

"We just wanted intense stories," Oxenham follows up.

So then it was almost unavoidable for the four of them to be involved in such places as violent barrios in Argentina, a Bolivian prison, and a co-ed game in Iran.

"That's where the good games were. In the Bolivian prison that's where the best players were in La Paz. They've got all the time in the world," Luke Boughen explains.

Ryan White suggests that "Gwendolyn always kind of wanted to up the ante a bit more" when it came to looking for compelling story lines and quality pick-up matches. At one point in the film Oxenham is not content watching Luke play pick up in Iran with a group of men. Head scarf and all she joins in, but it spotted by some policemen which leads to a nervous part of the film where the crew may have its equipment confiscated by Iranian government authorities.

"It was like the chicken and the egg. Did the adrenaline or the game come first?" White asks out loud.

The truly difficult parts were not if the four could find enough stories to fill their moving, but which ones would make the final product.

"At the end of the day it's still like a piece of art to translate the experience to something that people can digest," says Fergusson. "It was really hard. The four of us collaborating and arguing and debating."

In the end the filmmakers' goal was to make a movie that both soccer fans and non-soccer fans could both appreciate.

Oxenham says, "It was always important doe us to not have it be a soccer movie just use soccer as a vehicle to tell these other stories."

"I think we know, for the most part, that we'll have the soccer crowd. I think the most rewarding comments are going to come from people who don't like soccer." White adds.

"Pelada" is movie that satisfies multiple angles.

At its very core White says their movie was simply about "a trip around the world."

And Fergusson delves deeper into their mission, "To be able to show the world that Americans play and to bring it (the movie) back and show the U.S. this deep passion that exists outside in all these countries."

But in the end the movie is going to most satisfy those people who love the game as deeply as the filmmakers do.

When it was suggested that their movie may have saved my marriage I wasn't just looking for an ice breaker, but hinting that one of "Pelada's" most enduring messages might be that it helps explain the sport's attraction for millions upon millions of people across the globe to those who might never "get it".

For someone who's love of soccer is often viewed as an oddity or mystery to my friends and family the power of persuasion that "Pelada" has could be summed up when my wife said to me, "I may never get everything about soccer, the offsides rule, but tonight I get you a little bit more."

"I had a conversation with a guy whose wife came with him to the screening and she's like 'I don't get it, I don't like soccer, I never go to his games, but now I get it. I understand now more of what it's all about and why he loves it.'" Oxenham tells me.

"We've had a few people come up to us and say that I didn't want to go to this movie; I was dragged here by brother, father, someone and I'm so glad that I did."

Much like surfers have "Endless Summer" to show others just what makes them tick inside, now, perhaps, American soccer fans have "Pelada" to communicate and, hopefully, pass on their passion and dedication to others near and dear in their lives.

A suggestion that White finds, simply, "cool".

Read PART 2 of our interview with the "Pelada" crew where they talk about the global appeal of, what else, beer.


(From l to r): Luke Boughen, Ryan White, Gwendolyn Oxenham, and Rebekah Fergusson

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