High school sports often serve as the film setting for a great divide: between rich and poor, Black and White, or urban versus rural. Maybe the greatest high school sports drama is Denzel Washington’s Remember the Titans (2000), where in the racist South, a Black coach and Black and White co-captains unite a newly integrated pointy football team.
Of course, Hood River is a much smaller film, and it is a documentary with real protagonists. It is the Fall 2017 soccer season near Portland, Oregon, and Hood River Valley High School is trying to win the league and advance to the state championship.
Compared to the Titans, times have changed greatly in that ethnic groups play easily together on a public high school team. They are coached by stalwart Jaime Rivera, who strives to treat each player with love. What we see as the real divide is how each class of player is treated by society.
The Season’s Journey
On the one hand are the senior co-captains Erik Siekkinen and Saul Chavarria. Erik is a tall White centerback whose father is successful in the tech industry. Saul is a verbal and charismatic midfielder who sees life’s divide as those who get to travel and ski on vacations, and those like him, who have no option but to stay home and kick a ball around.
Mingo (full name Domingo Barragan) is a player who is important to the team but suffers when his undocumented father is picked up on a traffic violation and deported to Mexico.
Director Jonathan Field and his camera team integrated into the environment like an ethnographic study. The result is a very honest and personal window into the lives of these teenagers and their coach. If you’ve coached or refereed high schoolers, you recognize these stories and understand them. If you’ve read about migrant families broken up by Trump’s immigration crackdown, Mingo’s story should embed his trauma into your conscience.
Coach Rivera is an exceptional high school coach who grew up in the area. Like the coaches and referees of high school soccer in Northern California, he sees the field as an extension of the classroom. As the adult on the field, his role is to be a coach and a teacher. Rivera doesn’t just teach the rules or tactics of a game, his mission is to help the student athletes develop character, discipline, and the traits that will make society better. Winning is not everything, and the real goal is learning teamwork and dealing with life’s lessons.
But at the same time, to keep players motivated and fans involved, you have to also go for the win. It’s a tough balance, and Rivera’s record speaks for itself. The team makes it to the State tournament, but they have to deal with loss when they fail to win it all.
Delayed by the pandemic
The film has the cachet of being executive produced by well-known director Robert Rodriguez (Once Upon a Time in Mexico), who originated the idea for the film and selected the location. His goal was to exemplify class differences.
Despite its heritage, Hood River is another example of a film adversely affected by the pandemic. Filmed in Fall 2017 season, it was scheduled to premiere at SXSW in March 2020. But a few days prior, the festival was cancelled due to the pandemic.
In Jul-2021, the film was acquired by Gravitas Ventures, a distribution company based in Cleveland, which specializes in packaging streaming content. By Sep-2021 the film premiered, and by Nov-2021, it was on HBO Max.
It’s probably no coincidence that Gravitas Ventures CEO Nolan Gallagher is a big Cleveland sports and now soccer fan. He recently announced he is stepping away from film distribution to run his newly founded MLS Next Pro expansion team in Cleveland.
A curious side effect of the pandemic delay is that by the time this film popped up on my watchlist, the high school senior protagonists had already graduated college or gone on to adult careers. Co-captains Erik and Saul went on to play at least 1 year of college soccer, at Colorado School of Mines and Cornell, respectively. Domingo Barragan has become a building contractor. We certainly hope they continue to grow and mature into the men that Coach Rivera planted.
Coach Rivera himself moved over from the county’s only high school to its parks department in 2022, where he runs soccer programs for kids of all ages. While Hood River Valley is known for its outdoor recreation and kite surfing, perhaps someday it will also be widely known as a hotbed of soccer.
Hood River is a small film that lets you experience high school soccer in an environment of haves and have nots. You could have captured this story in many areas in the USA, even in Silicon Valley. Inequity is everywhere, and how we individually embrace other cultures is key to finding the answer.
7 Soccer Movie Mom Rating = 7
- Released: 2021-09-10 (online ??)
- 82 minutes
- In English with some Spanish
- I watched this on HBO Max
- Director: Steven Cantor , Jonathan Field
- Stars: Domingo Barragan , Erik Siekkinen , Saul Chavarria
- Watch the Trailer on Stick Figure Productions Website