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Behind the Lens: The Beautiful Game

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Words Kiran Yoliswa

Multi-award-winning film director Victor Buhler went from teaching film at Harvard and NYU’s Tisch Graduate Film School to travelling across Africa to learn about its biggest passion: football.

I am a huge football fan, but the grassroots level of the game rather than the professional level is what fascinates me the most. Football is the most democratic sport in the world – with one ball you can engage 22 people in a game. It’s accessible to everyone, it’s cheap to play, and it’s an exciting game to watch. Every African country has individuals and organisations that are using football as a tool for social change. We travelled across Kenya, Egypt, South Africa, Nigeria, Ghana and the Ivory Coast and met dozens, but we chose stories of people who were really trying to break conventions. In Ivory Coast, Suzanne Quaddio formed a women’s football supporters’ group who has very impressively campaigned for peace across the country. In Kenya, the Mathare Youth Sports Association organisation is run entirely by under-18s and has 20,000 members in the Mathare area of Nairobi. The Beautiful Game threads the best of these success stories together, and the similarities we found in different countries were far more significant than their differences.

Amazingly the hardest part of making the film is convincing people – at least in the West– to watch a film about Africa that isn’t explicitly about Africans suffering, dying or overcoming conditions of disease or war. As Desmond Tutu says in the film, “the Afro-Pessimists talk about all the bad things about Africa: Aids, the DRC, war? Well here is good news.” Ema, featured in our film, leaves home in Ghana at 14 years old full of trepidation but, after four hard years in America, wins the award for Best High School US Soccer Player and also excels in his studies. More and more Africans will be champions moving forward and I believe that representations of Africans on film will evolve accordingly. The spread of mobile technology, especially in Africa, will enable young filmmakers to find new audiences. I’m not sure the future will be filmmaking as we’ve known it (that’s anywhere, not just in Africa) but there will be new opportunities. African music has a world audience and the films on show at this year’s Film Africa prove that African films deserve the same.

Born: Singapore

Studied:Harvard University and New York University

Lives: London

Career highlight: The Beautiful Game, of course

Next project: A Whole Lott More, about a car factory outside of Detroit that exclusively employs people with intellectual disabilities.

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