Susan Koch's documentary, narrated by Colin Farrell, follows a cross-section of homeless men as they train to compete in a soccer competition that's equal parts sporting event and social service project.
Established in 2002 by Mel Young and Harald Schmied, the Homeless World Cup is built around the notion that "a ball can change the world," helping street people take control of their lives by providing structure and a competitive environment that encourages teamwork, discipline and focusing on short- and long-term goals. Koch's film focuses on the fourth annual event, which was hosted by Cape Town, South Africa. A total of 48 countries send teams picked from more than 20,000 candidates. Koch focuses on a handful of competitors whose stories belie the cliché that all homeless people are stupid, crazy, substance abusers and too lazy to work.. Slava, 27, moved to St. Petersberg after the USSR's dissolution sent his tiny hometown into economic freefall, only to find himself trapped in bureaucratic limbo and unable to work. He and his teammates believe victory in Cape Town will show their countrymen that homeless people aren't all drunks and losers. Alex, 29, grew up in the dire poverty of Nairobi's slums and hopes competing might attract a professional scout. Afghan Najib, 23, lost his family and home to war. Jesus, 62, enjoyed a brief professional career in his youth, but wound up in a Madrid shelter after years of crime, imprisonment and hard drinking. Nineteen-year-old American Craig was abused by his father and spent years bouncing around group homes, feeling like "like a stray dog" and developing an explosive temper. Twenty-three year old Dubliner Damien was a junkie, but is trying to rebuild his family relationships and hopes making the Irish team will inspire him to stay clean All present different challenges to their coaches, and approach the competition with different expectations and fears.
Koch's film is a consciousness-raising tool that follows a familiar trajectory and aims for uplift, but it's not a total puff piece. Koch acknowledges that the Homeless World Cup can't resolve entrenched economic inequity or undo the ravages of war: Alex returns to scraping by in Mathare and Najib's country remains in ruins. Most teams will lose and some players lack the resilience to cope or build on small successes: Jesus is still in a shelter and Simon, a member of the Irish team, died of an overdose shortly after the competition. Like all programs, it favors those who work it until it works for them; Craig, Slava and Damien have improved their lives but still face an uphill battle.
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- Released: 2008
- Rating: NR
- Review: Susan Koch's documentary, narrated by Colin Farrell, follows a cross-section of homeless men as they train to compete in a soccer competition that's equal parts sporting event and social service project. Established in 2002 by Mel Young and Harald Schm… (more)