Soccer transforms homelessness in ‘Zebras’ (2016)

Zebras (2016)

While the title Zebras may confuse you, this documentary is about 9 Argentine boys who represent their country in the Apr-2014 Street Child World Cup in Rio de Janeiro. The boys live together in La Casita, a home that takes children off the streets of Buenos Aires. By participating in the tournament, the boys experience travel and learn aspects of teamwork and personal responsibility. 

This film by Writer-Director Javier Zevallos is not polished, nor should it be. To hear the boys, who are around age 13, talk openly about their issues is to feel the grit of being a street child. They don’t know who their father is, or they don’t have a mother. Or their parents didn’t want them or left them behind. They are stereotyped as druggies or thieves. But doing drugs helps them live with their problems. 

To rescue these kids, Italian parish priest Elvio Mettone started La Casita over 30 years ago. Says he,

“One falling tree makes more noise than a whole forest growing.”

Coach Leondro Amoebo says that kids who suffer violence or abuse think they are useless. They need more than just food and a roof. And so La Casita tries to provide home and family.

About the soccer

“Dar Zebra” is a Brazilian phrase for getting an unexpected result (usually with a negative connotation). In the case of the Argentine boys, they go in with high expectations because of course, they are from Argentina, but they earn just one draw in 3 games. Still, they win a medal for most improved team. The film closely covers their games and off-field experiences at the Street Child World Cup. The boys appreciate their chance to experience other cultures and international travel, and the hope is that they absorb the tournament’s message that “We are Somebody”.

Street Child United and other street charities

The Street Child World Cup is organized by Street Child United, a London-based charity. They work in association with Save the Children UK and offer world cups for both football and cricket. Street Child United has a pretty good reach around the world, and after the 2014 event, they built a small pitch in a Brazilian favela. The girls who trained on that field went on to win the 2018 Street Child World Cup.

I got a little confused while researching the different street organizations, so here is some clarification. Street Child United, incorporated in 2011, is a different organization from the UK-based Street Soccer Foundation, founded in 2015, which provides UK programs similar to the organizations shown in the recent documentary Soccer in the City. There is also the UK-based Homeless World Cup Foundation, founded in 2001, which puts on the Homeless World Cup for adults, a tournament that has been covered by several films.

Conclusion

I watched Zevallos’ film on Amazon Prime and recommend it if you wish to see an honest and complete portrayal of street kids and their experience at the Street Child World Cup. There are a lot of Street Child World Cup videos on the internet, especially on the charity’s website, that are faster-paced and tend to be more marketing oriented. I found some very short but slick videos by Dave Mills. You can check these videos out to see more of the tournament from the perspectives of the other country participants.

In Spanish with English subtitles, 74 minutes

6 Soccer Movie Mom Rating = 6