Cinema | Trading ‘fruitcakes’ for fútbol as ‘Soccer Project’ reaches La Paz

Go to part 2 (Israel) » | part 3 (France) » | part 4 (Kenya) »

We encourage readers to view the Soccer Project trailer and to assist in completion of this documentary film about two elite university players—Oxenham and Boughen—and their pursuit of free-spirited football around the world. Vote until Apr 6 for the Soccer Project in the MelroseMAC Creativity Pays contest and start reading the diaries below.

Editor’s note

Below is the first of four installments from Gwendolyn Oxenham‘s diaries supporting an in-process documentary film, The Soccer Project, about four recent college graduates and their pursuit of improvisational soccer matches around the world. In the American vernacular these are called “pickup games,” although as Oxenham notes the nomenclature varies:

In England, it’s “having a kickabout.” In Trinidad, it’s called “taking a sweat.” In Bolivia, it’s callejero, which means “of the street.” In Brazil, the word is pelada, which literally means “naked”—the game stripped of all rules, regulations and formalities.

Gwendolyn Oxenham Oxenham

We appreciate the editors at Merriam-Webster who define the adjectival “pickup” with a logistician’s sensibility. Such events occur without formal organization, the dictionary says, “utilizing or comprising local or available personnel.”

Inspired in part by Bruce Brown‘s cult documentary The Endless Summer (1966) about globe-trotting surfers in quest of a perfect wave, Oxenham and crew lay claim to a long connection between football and wanderlust. As far back as the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the ubiquitous leather ball accompanied Sir George Scott in his wanderings among Burmese hill tribes as well as Scottish missionaries to Malawi. In literature, the soccer travelogue cum anthropological field guide has become its own sub-genre with academic and journalistic contributions in English from Janet Lever, Christopher Merrill, Simon Kuper, Franklin Foer and many others. Each major football tournament inspires pilgrimage and the urge to document such pilgrimage.

The twist in The Soccer Project is that three of the four are players of elite university pedigree: Luke Boughen from Notre Dame and Oxenham and Rebekah Fergusson from Duke. Ryan White, a documentary producer, along with Fergusson handles much of the film work. Oxenham’s story alone would merit documentary treatment: at 16, as an attacking player from the Florida panhandle, she enrolled at Duke to become the youngest Division I athlete in the history of the National Collegiate Athletic Association. After four years at Duke, where she switched to midfield, she played one summer for the women’s side at Santos in Brazil. She earned a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing at Notre Dame and, with a $20,000 grant at graduation, is completing Essence Game, a non-fiction book about soccer and family.

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