Directors Mike Brett and Steve Jamison and producer Kristian Brodie make their feature debuts with Next Goal Wins, an uplifting documentary about the American Samoa football team. Wendy Mitchell meets the team
If you think training for a World Cup qualifying match would be tough work, having a first practice at 5 am and a late one ending at 10 pm, just think of the guys who want to make a film about the process, getting there at 4 am and leaving at 11 pm.
That was one of many challenges for first-time feature directors Mike Brett and Steve Jamison, on their quest to make Next Goal Wins, an uplifting feature documentary about the American Samoa football team.
American Samoa was a laughing stock in the football world after suffering the world’s worst defeat in 2001 - losing to Australia 31-0. But the team didn’t lose hope, and they recruited maverick Dutch football coach Thomas Rongen to come to the island and help them on their World Cup Qualifying campaign in 2011.
Producer Kristian Brodie of Agile Films sparked the initial idea for the project, which he brought to Brett and Jamison’s company Archer’s Mark. They had been making football commercials for several years, and Brett says “We felt like we were making the same films again and again. We wanted to rediscover our love of football.” They trio self funded the project.
Keeping hope alive
The American Samoans were sceptical at first - they had been approached by film and TV crews many times since the famous defeat. Jamison says, “They said everybody had been wanting to take the mickey. We wanted to celebrate the fact that they wanted to keep playing.”
They went to American Samoa to prove their intentions, and stayed for about six weeks initially. After they returned to the UK, they were soon back when Rongen was hired (they stayed for another 8 weeks that time, and were lucky that Rongen was happy for the filming to continue.)
Producer Kristian Brodie of Agile Films adds: “While we were shooting we had the tagline, ‘Without a win, without a goal, but never without hope.’”
Rongen, recovering from his own family tragedy, starts out as a very tough coach but clearly comes to love the team members as much as the audience does.
Another human interest story in the film comes from defender Jaiyah Saelua, a member of what is called the third gender in Samoan culture (she lives as a woman).
It’s those stories that reach beyond a football audience, Brett says. “Female audiences have loved it and men are sobbing…Because of the core football audience we know it has a home but we hope it reaches beyond that.”
Distributors agree — K5 International acquired the film just before AFM and has sold it to the UK (Icon), France (Bodega), Australia (Madman), Japan (Asmik) and the Middle East (Falcon). The film is now completed and will be released theatrically starting in April, just ahead of the Rio World Cup.
Football organisation FIFA has seen the film and is supporting it. As Brett notes, “The film has a powerful message about sport unifying people…it’s a good news story for football.”
Despite living a 52-hour-commute away from American Samoa in London, the directors spent months embedded with the team and amassed more than 300 hours of footage. The project’s striking visuals come from a combination of stunning scenery and expert cinematography (5k resolution on the RED Epic camera). Jamison says, “We knew it had to be theatrical from the get-go.”
Brett and Jamison also shot it themselves, and Brett says the pair have a “telepathic understanding” about coverage.
Archer’s Mark now has several other feature film projects on the go, including Tom Harper’s War Book with Sixteen Films; The Darkest Universe by Will Sharpe and Tom Kingsley; and the feature being developed based on Sundance selected short Notes on Blindness.
And their commercial background will also come in handy. Brett says: “There is an enormous amount of talent in the commercials world that can make the moves to features…directors we’re repping want to work in the long form.”
The pair plan to direct together again, next time on a fictional film (they have about six potential projects in the mix).
Agile is also developing a slate of narrative features. Brodie says: “The process of making Next Goal Wins opened my eyes to finding the story under the surface.” Future projects include Jersey-set serial killer love story Beast by Michael Pearce and David Stoddart’s dark psychological thriller Disturbed.
Back to the island
Also ahead is the local premiere of Next Goal Wins, as the filmmakers have held back the rights for American Samoa. “We want to give it back to them, and they can use it as an educational tool in schools,” Brett says. They plan to coordinate screenings there with football camps and the government’s anti-obesity campaigns.
The team does show progress (they may not be at the World Cup, but it’s still something of a happy ending). And while the filmmakers can’t take credit for the athletic improvements, they were very moved when Tavita Taumua, the head of the Football Federation of American Samoa, told them: “The guys kind of did it for you…When you came back [to shoot] it made us believe we could do it.”