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Documentary

‘Equal Playing Field’ from the top down (2021)

Sometimes to get people to pay attention to your message, you have to do something radical. Like have 30 women climb Kilimanjaro and play an official soccer match at an altitude of 18,800 feet.

The idea for Equal Playing Field  (EPF) began with 2 female footballers, Laura Youngson and Erin Blankenship, who wanted to raise the issue of gender equity. They saw a death-defying game at the highest altitude as a way to literally elevate women and womens sports across the world.

The first world record on Kilimanjaro

By Jun-2017, the women had organized the project and set out with 2 teams, referees, medical staff, film crew, photographers, and local guides and porters. From the footage, it appears the project encompasses around 200 people. There is a lot of gear to carry, such as custom-made lightweight goals, lots of climbing and soccer equipment, and oxygen to get the women through the climb and the game.

The climb takes 6 days, during which we learn the stories as to why players have traveled from 20 countries to participate. Some of them have played at a high level or professionally. All of them feel the project resonates with them and gives them a voice.

The documentary covers about a third of the players, with extended focus on several women:

  • Jasmine Henderson (Jazzy) is an American who played in AYSO and D1 college, and briefly in Brazil until she discovered that her contract specified zero dollars in salary. She is a single mom of an autistic son, and playing on Kilimanjaro is to show her son what can be accomplished despite setbacks.
  • Yasmeen Shabsough is a former player on Jordan’s WNT and plays in hijabi.
  • Dipa Adhikari plays for the Nepal WNT, but her Federation threatens her for participating. She wants to prove them wrong, but despite being from Nepal, she is the only player who fails to complete the climb to the top.
  • Dani Richards is an American born in Saudi Arabia who was raped at 13 while trick or treating in the USA. The project helps her find her voice and heal from her trauma.

The second world record at the Dead Sea

Most of the film is about the 2017 climb, but the last 20 minutes are about the 2018 game EPF organized the following year. In Apr-2018, they journeyed to Jordan to play an official game at the lowest altitude in the world, near the Dead Sea at -1,411 ft.

In this project for a second Guiness World Record, EPF has organized Jordan Quest 2018. Under the sponsorship of Prince Ali bin al-Hussein, EPF conducts clinics for Jordanian girls and promotes female sports. As mentioned in my review of the film 17, the Prince was the driving force for holding the 2016 U-17 Womens World Cup in Jordan and has run for the FIFA presidency. As the Minister of Youth and Sport, Prince Ali builds a regulation field for the event, in the village of Ghor al-Safi, which is 20 miles from the Dead Sea.

Of course, this also means that going forward, many official 11v11 games will be played at an altitude of -1,411 feet. So to me, it is a world record that is easily duplicated.

In conclusion

I wanted to learn more about all the women who participated in these EPF events. Unfortunately, their website only has a small amount of player info, it doesn’t even list their founders full names, and the founders don’t seem to be on social media. It worries me if this is for safety reasons because the women have been trolled or threatened.

I also wondered why it took so long to release the film. It appeared that they had enough great footage from the Kilimanjaro project to produce a film on that project alone — it makes a great travelogue. I understand many documentaries take more than 4 years to release, but it feels like a lost opportunity that the film was so delayed.

Equal Playing Field is the first soccer movie I have seen that spends as much time on its themes as on the players’ passion for football. As a result, I found its story inspiring. It made me want to run and swim a little further at the gym; it made me aspire to accomplish more. I hope it affects you the same way 🙂.

8 Soccer Movie Mom Rating = 8

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