For the past 18 months there has been an intriguing trailer kicking around the Internet featuring a girl, a boy, a ball and a slew of locations that are as visually arresting as they are disparate: the streets of Iran, a garden park in Japan, an Argentine slum and dirt fields in Kenya. The trailer is for the film Pelada, which is now available on DVD.
The film is currently touring art-house theaters across the nation accompanied by post-screening Q&A sessions with the film’s creators and subjects, Luke Boughen and Gwendolyn Oxenham.
When they’re not ferrying their film around the country, the California-based former collegiate soccer stars are ensconced in academic pursuits. Boughen is in his second year of law school and Oxenham teaches Freshman Composition and Analyzing Creative Non-Fiction at a local college. Recently the pair took time away from their scholastic pursuits to talk to MLSsoccer.com about their global adventure and the subsequent success of the trip’s travelogue.
MLSsoccer.com: So as I understand it, you two are off the road and settled now. It seems like your aunt got her way in the end Luke. Are you two having withdrawals from the trip? [In the film Boughen’s aunt pushes for him to get serious and forget about soccer.]
Boughen: [Laughing] It’s hard to beat that, but I accept my best days are probably behind me.
MLSsoccer.com: How long were you actually traveling for the film?
Oxenham: We were on the road for about a year. We would go out to South America, run out of money, come back again, raise more money, go back out… it was a three year process of making the film, but a year on the road.
MLSsoccer.com: That’s a long time to travel but I imagine it takes a while to hit 25 countries. Was there any place that you wanted to go that you didn’t?
Oxenham: Mexico. We kind of can’t believe we didn’t go to Mexico, your giant soccer-loving country right next door. We always intended to go there and it was on the itinerary, but when the economy crashed it got cut. We ran out of money, needed new equipment and we weren’t able to get down there before the deadlines for any of the film festivals around the World Cup.
Boughen: [Laughing] That and drugs wars. Those kind of put a damper on things.
Oxenham: That’s the one place that we regret not getting to.
MLSsoccer.com: Well drug wars can’t be any more dangerous than playing in a prison. Where was that? Bolivia?
Boughen: Yeah, La Paz. We had heard that the best games in the city happened right there in the prison. So we talked to the guards on the outside - because there are no guards on the inside of the prison - and bought our way in. We said, “so we can get inside and they’re not going to shank us or anything like that?” And the guards were like, “well, you’ve got to talk about that with them.” So we had to pay the inmates… it turned out to be one of the best games because those people have nothing but time on their hands and they just play all day, every day.
MLSsoccer.com: When I saw that part of the film I did question your sanity, but it seemed like everything was OK in the end. Was soccer the great equalizer?
Oxenham: The prison, the ghetto in Argentina, in all of these places, once you had a ball they looked at you as a player and quit looking at you as a tourist. It completely changed the interaction; as soon as people found out you were players they would make sure nothing happened to us. The ball was a form of protection.
MLSsoccer.com: Did the trip change you? Do you find yourself being a bit braver after doing things you abroad that you, presumably, wouldn’t do normally at home?
Oxenham: Luke has always had a penchant for adventure, but I’m very shy. But I love pickup soccer and felt like I really wanted to make this film about it. And if had to be the only girl that would play in these games, I would do that. It’s definitely made me more outgoing and open to taking more risks. But my natural comfort zone is reading a book at home.
MLSsoccer.com: What was the hardest place to get to?
Boughen: Iran was probably the hardest place to get into. Just the visa process was a mess, and that’s just on tourist visas. We didn’t even try to go on journalist visas, which was part of the reason we freaked out when we found out we were reported to the government. Iran was a trip unto itself because it was such a hassle, especially being Americans, not Iranian citizens.
Oxenham: We had to go with a tour group, which is the opposite of what we did everywhere else and it took a really long time to find one that would agree to letting us look for soccer. I had been emailing with this guy and we’d been speaking in code, calling us “the sport enthusiasts.” He said we had to have this government-approved itinerary, but we didn’t necessarily have to stick to it.
So we finally have an understanding with him and he says we can go look for soccer. Then we get to Iran and our tour guide is a totally different guy who knows nothing about our arrangement and just laughs at me when we say we’re going to go find a soccer game. So we had start all over again and convince him to let us go find a game.
MLSsoccer.com: And what was the most difficult place to reach physically?
Oxenham: The most remote place was in Peru. There were these women who play and herd llamas and sheep all day. They’re really high in the Andes so getting there was a real process, driving all day after taking three buses.
Boughen: Yeah, the 8-hour bus rides could be tough, but in the context of this is all we were doing - travelling to go play soccer - it wasn’t so bad.
MLSsoccer.com: Speaking of buses, I was impressed when you boarded the purple bus in Kenya that said “Drive It Like You Stole It” on the back.
Boughen: [Laughing] Yeah, in Africa the buses were all decked out. There was an Obama one, a Rooney one, a Fabregas one… they all had their theme.
MLSsoccer.com: So how have the screenings been going?
Oxenham: They’ve been good. We did one screening with and sold it out; we had 450-plus people, they were even sitting on the floor. We had sold out screenings in LA and Kansas City as well. We also had a screening in Tel Aviv and one in Qatar.
They’ve pretty much all been great. Anytime we succeed in getting the word out to the soccer community we sell it out, which has been great. But getting the word out is the hard part.
Upcoming Pelada screenings info:
Legends Bar and Restaurant (Doors open at 7 PM)
6 West 33rd Street
New York, NY 1001-3321
Special Introduction by Ethan Zohn
Performance by the Street Team, plus Q&A with directors Ryan White and Gwendolyn Oxenham
Cinebarre Mountlake (7 PM)
6009 244th St SW
Mountlake Terrace, WA 98043
Q&A with Gwendolyn Oxenham