Bush League (2010)

African life and soccer in Malawi ‘Bush League’ (2010)

Documentarian Cy Kuckenbaker followed his Peace Corps buddy Jake Wilson to Malawi, where Jake had signed up for a second stint. Wilson’s assignment in Malawi is business development, which he implements by helping the villagers of Zolokere to grow vegetables and then use the proceeds to buy equipment for the town soccer team. The soccer success becomes a double-edge sword in his personal goal to build a brick schoolhouse in the competing village of Khutamaji.

This documentary is an ethnographic study, where the researcher embeds oneself as an invisible observer in the lives and behavior of the subjects. Perhaps because the villagers are simple people, they allow Kuckenbaker to film very intimate moments. A young man thumbs through his secret pornography stash (an old girly magazine inherited from his father), and later he and his wife are filmed as they undergo HIV testing in a tiny clinic, wait for the results, and receive instruction on how to put on a condom.

African Soccer in Malawi can be scary

On the soccer side, Kuckenbaker records several games between Jake’s Tony Bombers team and other villages. These games are fascinating for a glimpse of how soccer is played in African villages. The game is fast, violent, and susceptible to mass confrontations — and not just amongst the players. After goals, the hundred or so fans run on to the pitch and joyfully or mournfully, roll around on the ground. They are apt to join in the team fights. I don’t know how anyone is brave enough to referee such games.

Note that in America, “bush league” usually refers to rural or minor league teams particularly for baseball, the opposite of professional leagues. In this case, I assume it is also a play on words in reference to the African bush, i.e. a wild area of Africa.

It would be nice to know what happened to Jake after his Peace Corps service. Cy Kuckenbaker is now a community college professor in San Diego. His claim to fame is this vimeo of planes landing at the San Diego airport.

6 Soccer Movie Mom Rating = 6


  • Release Date: 2010-10-05 (Canada)
  • In English and the local African language with English sub-titles
  • The film is also known as Bush League – Malawi. It is cool to listen to the Malawians sing.
  • 72 minutes
  • IMDB
  • Director: Cy Kuckenbaker
  • Watch the film
  • Watch the Trailer