“Pelada” is a feature-length documentary film about Luke and Gwendolyn, two college soccer stars whose athletic careers have come to an end. Not quite ready to settle down and get regular jobs, they decide to take off on a trip around the world in search of pick-up games. “Pelada” is the story of where this trip takes them. TeaTime-Mag had the opportunity to speak with one of Pelada’s co-directors, Rebekah Fergusson, as she shares her insights on the film, their travels, and the art of documentary film-making.
wendolyn Oxenham and I played soccer together in college, and we also both studied documentary film,” begins Rebekah Fergusson, one of the directors of the 2010 Pelada documentary. “We realized that we had the ability to seek out stories about soccer that most people hadn’t seen or heard about…We wanted to combine the stories of people that play pick-up soccer around the world with a story about players who were at the end of their professional careers.” As it turns out, Gwendolyn and her boyfriend Luke – both college players – made the perfect characters for such a film.
Thus began the Pelada journey. The film was shot in three long international trips over a two-year period, taking the film-makers to 25 different countries in search of pick-up games. From prisoners in Bolivia who play around the clock because it’s the only thing to keep their minds off their sentences, to Kenyans who play for a money jackpot in Nairobi, to women who defy the norms in Iran, Pelada’s stories are intriguing and immensely inspiring.
“The film is less about soccer than it is about those little things that surround it,” Fergusson explains. “For us, the most important element was capturing the moments…Being in the right place at the right time.”
Not only does the film capture the “right” moments, but it also portrays them in all their glory: the breathtaking landscapes and scenery captured on film provide stunning backdrops for Pelada’s stories. “We made an effort to shoot soccer beautifully,” says Fergusson. She explains that the specific use of wide shots to show off landscapes, or even just close-ups of people’s faces who were playing in each game, helped to make the film personal and powerful.
Traveling around the world is just the type of endeavor that a documentary film-maker must take on. “You don’t need expensive equipment, you just need a story and a close-ups work ethic,” Fergusson explains. Not surprisingly, all the traveling certainly had its ups and downs. Fergusson describes a precarious situation the film team encountered in the Israeli airport when their cameras set off some sensitive bomb detection equipment. She also recalls many fun times such as the barbecue they attended at a winery in Argentina: after several hours of eating red meat and drinking red wine, the group decided to play a midnight pick-up game. “Ryan and I (the two behind the camera) finally got to play for a little bit.”
The art of documentary film-making requires a great deal of creative effort and artistry, Fergusson tells us. Like all different types of film, documentaries are subject to the same visual method of storytelling as fiction film. And yet for Fergusson, documentary film is easily her favorite genre, as it allows her, the ‘storyteller’, to perhaps “uncover something that was there all along” and portray it in documentary form. “The power of documentary film is that, as the film-maker, you are shaping the real stories that you uncover…I love figuring out the best way to frame a piece of life into a dramatic arc or message.”
The film is creatively crafted in such a way that it elicits a number of sentiments in the viewer. “Overall we wanted people to feel sympathy for Luke and Gwendolyn and to identify with them as characters who are somewhat heart-broken by soccer,” says Fergusson, “but also to experience their new understanding of the game as they see it around the world.”
By the end of the film, Luke and Gwendolyn are no longer the centerpiece. Rather, the meaning of soccer in each country becomes the central focus. Fergusson explains that in this way, “the story stands alone as its own drama, and is not only about Luke and Gwendolyn.” As the trip continues, these two young players begin to look at their failed dreams as something else: soccer is a universal game that brings people together despite language and cultural barriers. Their love of the game was essentially their ticket into new communities and diverse experiences around the world.
While Fergusson has produced several short films in the past, Pelada is her first project of this magnitude. The film premiered at SXSW (South by Southwest) in March 2010 and has played in festivals and in theaters all over the U.S. and around the world. At Newport Beach Film Festival, Pelada received recognition for Outstanding Achievement in Documentary film-making. The film is also being distributed abroad by P.B.S. International.
For more information about the film, viewings, and how to purchase a DVD, visit the Pelada website: