November 2009 Event

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Sybille Spinola

« Pikin Players or A Football Story
A documentary film produced by Chapter01 Productions in collaboration with Education Without Borders. Make a donation here.

Chapter01 Productions has recently signed a partnership with Education Without Borders to produce a documentary film called « Pikin Players (Pikin Players means child players in a dialect of Cameroon). Pikin Players is a documentary film which tells the story of three African children who travel to Europe to become professional football players. The shooting team will film the young players for months in their struggle to achieve their dreams by following their journey from Cameroon to Europe. To learn more about this documentary, Education Without Borders has met Sybille Spinola, director of the film.

Question 1 : What made you decide to produce a documentary about this subject and why is such a documentary necessary today?

I came across an article in the Observer newspaper last year which spoke about the problem of trafficked young football players, boys whose families were being tricked into giving all their money away so their sons could go to Europe to become football stars.

The subject immediately caught my attention. I got in touch with Jean Claude Mbvoumin from the NGO Culture Foot Solidaire who invited me to attend the 2nd International Conference on the Young African Footballer in Cameroon, where I could investigate further as well as speak to academies and players there.
After the conference, we have made the decision to try to tell these boys’ stories. Although bogus agents tricking naive families is an element of the problem, we wanted to focus more on the broader problem of young boys who are dropping everything to chase the vague dream of football success.
The story in itself is important in a period in which football has never been so popular and the timing of the film is crucial. The world cup will be in South Africa next year. If ever there is a time to catch people’s attention with a story, it is now, when all eyes will be turned towards Africa.

Question 2 : Why did you choose Education Sans Frontière (Education Without Borders) as a partner to make the « Pikin Players » documentary?

It was very clear to us from the beginning that Pikin Players could have the power do more than simply highlight the problem – it could be used to help prevent it from occurring in the first place. The best place to start, naturally, is by educating the children about the dangers of badly thought out dreams of fame and success in Europe.
We saw that ESF works in Cameroon, so we approached them about collaborating with us on the project. We thought the film could be used as the basis for the development of a social program to help educate children in Cameroonian schools about the importance of staying in school & not dropping everything for football. At the same time, the film could bring the story of these boys to the attention of European school goers who have similar dreams.
ESF got back to us with a positive response and we have taken it from there.

sybille_with_children_in_yaounde

Question 3 : Education Without Borders intends to put in place an educational program around this documentary. Do you think that it will help make people more aware of the existing « children football slaves » problem?

The the social project that comes out of Pikin Players can work on two levels. Firstly, it will help educate young players in Africa before they decide to travel to Europe and drop our of school. It will make them more aware of the industry in general and allow them to pursue their careers from a more informed basis. Secondly, the project can serve to educate young players here in Europe about the situation their African counterparts find themselves in. The more light that is shone on the situation, the less likely it is to continue.

Question 4 : You and your team have recently returned from a trip to Cameroon, could you tell us what the purpose of this trip was and how did things go?

We have made 2 trips to Cameroon so far – the first was to speak with experts on the subject and on African football. Also, we wanted to meet young players personally, so we could talk to them ourselves and get a more intimate view of the situation.
After the first trip, we spent 8 months developing the project and returned in August this year to look for the boys whose stories we will follow. We had 5 weeks of intensive interviews with scores of boys. Eventually, we selected 4 boys. One boy was spotted personally by Samuel Eto’o and has been recruited by FC Barcelona. He will be taken care of and protected by the Fundacion Privada de Samuel Eto’o and educated in a local school. We wanted to tell his story as an example of how things should be done – officially, legally, and with the boy’s interests taken care of.
We will then follow two or three other boys who are making their own ways to Europe. They have invitations for club try-outs but nothing more. They have no protection and the outcome of their trip is much more uncertain than that of the young boy traveling to Barcelona.

boys_in_limbe

Question 5 : The film will be made by Chapter01 Productions which is a production company whose ambition is to produce films with a social responsibility. I imagine that in such an environment, each film is different as well as the challenges. What is special about « Pikin Players »?

We are a team of professional filmmakers with a background of working on projects of a socially conscious nature. My last film was about the problem of house demolitions in Palestine and other members of our team have worked on projects in Africa, the middle East, Europe and Asia with themes varying from the Madrid bombings to African immigrants traveling on boats to get to Europe . We are concerned about the world we live in and eagre to share what we learn with an audience who might not otherwise know about these stories.
Pikin Players takes the story of these boys and tells it from their own point of view. Rather than take a reportage type angle, we wanted to follow the boys as they go through their own experiences. We believe that this approach will have a much stronger effect when educating other young players about the situation. Seeing a boy like themselves actually go through the process of trying to make it in Europe will be more visceral for them than being lectured to which would be the case with a more academic approach.

Question 6 : Given the current economic environment, we imagine that ensuring the financing of a film must be extremely difficult. What major challenges do you face with regards to the production of « Pikin Players?

With the crisis, finding money for any film is difficult at the moment. We financed the entire development and pre-production of the film ourselves. Because of the nature of Pikin Players, we wanted to try to raise the money to produce the film ourselves, through donations from industry professionals, educational bodies and anyone interested in helping to get the film made
At the moment we are working in collaboration with organizations here in Spain who are helping us in various ways like offering services for free, allowing us to hold fundraisers at their premises, etc. We have been helped by professional footballers in Barcelona who liked the project and wanted to contribute. Gracia Arts Project has allowed us to use their designers for all our promotional material. We still need a lot of help on the financial side of things, however. We are all working for deferred payment because we care a lot about the project but certainly, in order to be able to finish Pikin Players well and in time for the Wold Cup, we need a lot more to come in and all the help we can get.

boy_in_limbe

Question 7 : How do you think the public will react to the film?

I hope that the film will spur people to look a bit further than the pure spectacle of the World Cup and the football industry. The film is not an outright critique of the industry but it should highlight what could be done better. Certainly I do not want to lecture anyone with this film – I hope the boys will tell their own stories and the audience may draw from them whatever conclusions they want. It’s important to me, also, to tell a story away from the very common stories of war, poverty and starvation we see with films made about Africa. Here we have boys with dreams very similar to children here in Europe. They have families, go to school, hang out with their friends and dream of becoming football stars. With the right education and more investment from European clubs, these boys could follow their dreams at home, rather than believing that their only chance of success is to leave their country and get to Europe no matter what.

Sybille, thank you for your availability and we are very much looking forward to seeing the film.

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