This is Not a Ball (2014)

‘This is Not a Ball’ (2014) shows the process of artist Vik Muniz

 The documentary This is Not a Ball was made in anticipation of the 2014 World Cup, but it is not really a soccer movie and instead captures the creative process of the Brazilian artist Vik Muniz.

Seeking larger and larger scales, he designs a mammoth work of ephemeral art using 10,000 soccer balls, which he then photographs. Muniz characterizes himself as the most successful Brazilian artist. He is bankable, and his work sells for thousands of dollars.

Comparing this film to earlier Oscar-worthy work

This movie is similar to the 2010 Oscar-nominated Waste Land, where director Lucy Walker followed Muniz as he photographed a team of Brazilian catedores (recycling pickers who scavenge waste dumps) and then had them build their own mammoth portraits from the salvaged materials. Muniz’s photographs of the portraits were then sold at auction, the proceeds of which benefited the catedores’ organization.

Muniz’s process begins with understanding his subject matter. However, a soccer ball has no soul like the hearts of Waste Land’s pickers. In the case of the pickers, their stories are compelling, but in the case of a soccer ball, what is there to understand about a mere object?

He shows a brief history of the origins of soccer, why a sphere is a perfect shape, how the Adidas Brazuca ball was designed and tested, how balls are hand sewn (a Pakistani stitches 5-8 balls per day). To find the passion for the ball, he interviews a Mexican freestyler, favela boys, Marta, and amputee soccer players in Sierra Leone.

Keeping Vik Muniz bankable

MIT article on Vik Muniz collaboration
MIT article on Vik Muniz collaboration

Unfortunately, showing little passion for the game, Muniz decides to build a simple geometric figure known as a bucky-ball. Composing it from 10,000 black and white balls manufactured by Voit, he has a crew assemble one work in Azteca Stadium and another in a favela.

You can now purchase one of these balls for $60 plus shipping, the proceeds of which go to a long list of charities.

I appreciated learning about the amputees, the Japanese method of making a sphere from dirt, and an inside look at Adidas. But the overall slickness of this film, from its complete planned commercialization (distributed on Netflix at the start of the world cup), to its charitable tie-ins, made me feel like I was just a target in a marketing campaign.

I did learn about Muniz’s body of work, which is gorgeous and stimulating as you realize what a composition is really made of*. And since he directed this production himself, maybe that was the real intent of the film – to keep him at the forefront of bankable artists.

* for similar but all-digital work, see artist Chris Jordan. Also note that Ball is similar in scope to Rivers and Tides, about artist Andy Goldsworthy.

6 Soccer Movie Mom Rating = 6