Nick Fitzhugh went to South Africa during World Cup 2010 and filmed Soccer City, ostensibly about the impact of soccer on South African culture. He interviewed and followed the lives of various youth players and former National Team members.
Fitzhugh wrote about his subjects in the NY Times and followed that up with this 60-minute documentary. With massive unemployment and little future beyond crime in the impoverished township of Johannesburg’s Alexandra (Alex), young players see soccer as a path to education. If they play well, they can get a scholarship at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits). The real purpose of playing soccer is to get out of the township and rise above the discrimination that comes with being a resident of the slum.
The film is well-meaning. But the stories show just how hard it is to leave Alex, and once done with soccer, how hard it is to move on to something better. It reminds me of Prof Harry Edwards at UC Berkeley in the 70s, when he complained that sports was used to hold the black man down, by encouraging black youth to excel in sports as the best path out of poverty, rather than education. (See The Beautiful Game)
As far as documentaries go, this film does not capture soccer’s passion. There is video from local games, but it suffers from minimal equipment, and I suspect, a lack of knowledge of the game. The most interesting soccer comes from young Nancy Majola, who has good juggling and dribbling skills.
Director Nick Fitzhugh
Fitzhugh graduated from Brown University in creative writing and started a foundation to encourage youth to share their stories from around the world. It was acquired by National Geographic, then spun off again, and eventually turned into glimpse.org, which it appears has been acquired by some other creative website.
I watched this film on ESPN Classic. Much of the spoken English is subtitled.
5 Soccer Movie Mom Rating = 5