Soccer Culture

Kicking and Screening: A Film Chat with Greg Lalas

The 5th Annual Kicking and Screening Film Festival runs June 18-21 in New York City. We caught up with festival co-founder Greg Lalas to invent new words and discuss soccer, films, and Emily Blunt.
BY John Godfrey Posted
June 13, 2013
1:54 PM
JOHN GODFREY, ASN: I love soccer. I love movies. Does that mean I will love the 5th Annual Kicking + Screening Soccer Film Festival in TriBeCa?

GREG LALAS, K+S: Well, if you don't, then either you're lying or we didn't select the right films. Maybe both are true. But seriously, yes, if you love soccer and love movies, you will absolutely, definitely love K+S. This year, especially, is a great year for the people who lean further toward the film side of the soccer-film spectrum. All four of the feature films are great films first. The fact that they're about soccer is almost secondary. Almost.

JOHN: Which one is your favorite—or are they all like children at this point?

GREG: I don't have any children, so I have no idea about all that. But I do have a favorite, just because I'm a big fan of soccer history. Mundial: The Highest Stakes, which was directed by Michal Bielawski, is showing on Wednesday, June 19. It's an amazing film about the Polish national team at the 1982 World Cup. That team was really something, with guys like Zbigniew Boniek, Wodzimierz Smolarek, and Janusz Kupcewicz. These were all guys no one knew at the time, but afterward, Boniek starred at Juventus and Roma, and Smolarek spent years in the Bundesliga and Eredivisie. They played an attacking style, scored beautiful goals, and thrilled their countrymen back in Poland. Mind you, those countrymen were living under martial law at the time. That kind of contrast is hard to beat from a storytelling standpoint.

JOHN: Wait, what? Subtitles? Or when it's a film about sports, do you refer to it as "closed captioning"?

GREG: Did I not mention that there might be some reading involved? Oh well. Must have slipped my mind… Yes, subtitles! This is an international game, buddy, so the stories come from all over.

JOHN: But there's at least one selection with a strong New York hook, correct? It involves a certain attacking midfielder who likes to punch corner flags…?

GREG: I see what you did there… hook… punching corner flags…clever. Yes, there is a very big New York hook to the closing night film. It's a beautiful biopic type film about Tim Cahill, the Australian star of the New York Red Bulls. The Unseen Journey was made in the lead up to the 2010 World Cup, and the director Steven Sander went behind the scenes with Cahill, getting to know his family, what he's like a person, et cetera. It's all really intimate stuff, including a fascinating scene where he talks about his Samoan heritage and his tattoos. You see his goal for Australia the other day?

JOHN: You mean this one?

Yes indeed. Another great header and another corner flag ends up spitting teeth. Cahill is one of my favorite MLS designated players. Maximum effort. Talent to spare. And he never sulks, shows up teammates, or develops mysterious ailments just prior to road matches against the New England Revolution. He just wants to play and win.

GREG: And yet, he's one of the most humble "mates" I've come across. Total team guy. You know they used to tell him he was too small? Man, in today's Messi-anic era, a coach would be reamed out for shrugging off a talented kid because of size. Then again, because of that knock, Cahill worked his ass off and now plays like he's six-foot-four.

JOHN: Why did you start this festival?

GREG: Um, I love soccer. I love movies.

JOHN: Well yeah. But there's love and then there's LOVE.

GREG: I don't know, it just seemed like it would be fun. Plus I was a freelancer with some extra time on my hands back then. This was in 2009. The soccer cultural movement was just kicking off. (I have started to call it "soccerism," by the way.) The supporter culture was still new. Hell, even the idea of it was. But my cofounder and I were into it all. We met through mutual friends and that's all we talked about. Then we talked about combining her film buffdom—is that a word?—with my soccerism. Voila! Three months later we had a poster and a website and a film lineup. Which is all you really need to found a film festival. We did the first festival in soccer bars around New York, like Slainte and Opia, and it killed, as the cool kids say.

JOHN: I thought you didn't have kids.

GREG: Ha! Soccer bars are my kids.

JOHN: So how many films did you watch before selecting these four? How many soccer films are there?

GREG: There are a lot more than you'd imagine. I guess we have about 200 or so in our library, which is really just a fancy way of saying we have bookcase of DVDs and a spreadsheet of titles and contact info for directors, producers, and their ilk. It's probably the most comprehensive library of soccer films in the world, though I'm only guessing about that.

For this year, we chose the four features—plus a couple of shorts; never forget the short films, or Rachel, my cofounder will castrate you—from about 25, maybe 30 contenders. Last year it was about 55, because the first batch of South Africa World Cup films were coming to fruition. But honestly, we get an email or hit on Twitter or Facebook every week about a new film. It's pretty cool. And the reaction the film makers have to discovering there is a soccer film festival—we're not the only one, by the way, there's also one in Berlin and in Rio—is very satisfying.

JOHN: Do your selections tend to be documentaries? Or do you sprinkle in the occasional Bend It Like Beckham or, a personal favorite, Victory?

GREG: So Bend It Like Beckham is not a personal favorite of yours? Because Keira Knightley is a personal favorite of mine.

JOHN: I'm more of an Emily Blunt kind of guy. Going to IMDB her now and see if Mrs. Krasinski has ever worn shinguards.

GREG: Krasinski is a Brown grad, so I assume she has. Now, back to our originally scheduled programming: Yes, we've shown Victory a couple of times over the years, in 2009 in Washington and in 2011 in London, where we had to call it Escape to Victory. I can never decide which title is better. Anyway, coolest part of that was that Ossie Ardiles showed up for the screening. The Ossie Ardiles, who plays Carlos Rey in the movie. He's the guy who pulls off the rainbow in slow motion.

JOHN: I saw that film in 1981 and I still have nightmares about the scene where they intentionally break the starting goalkeeper's arm.

GREG: That was a brutal scene. "Try to make it a clean break." Brutal. Look, the truth is, there are a lot more soccer docs out there than narrative films. I think it's because soccer is such a hard game to film. And to play. Most actors suck at playing soccer, and it's hard to fake a good first touch or a chest trap or something. I think baseball is a lot easier to fake, for some reason. But that's not to say we haven't shown some good fictional films. The German film Eine Andere Liga" (Another League) is really good. And there have been some good short films, like Because There Are Things You Never Forget and Ana's Playground.

JOHN: Is K+S a competition or an exhibition? Is there wagering? Do you give out a Palme d'Or or a Ballon d'Or or something?

GREG: It's more of an exhibition, but we do have a prize for what we determine to be the best film. It's called the Golden Whistle. There's an actual whistle, even.

JOHN: And what about celebrities and festivities around the screenings? Will Cahill be bringing his tattoos to TriBeCa?

GREG: We're hoping he makes it. We've got a partnership with the Red Bulls, and they are talking to Tim and a few other players about coming out. He's flying back from Australia midweek, so it'll depend how jet-lagged he's feeling. The Aussies should've have just qualified for Brazil, though, so hopefully he'll be so pumped up he won't need to sleep.

JOHN: OK, I'm sold. What next? Where do I go from here? Where should we send the ASN readers who have tolerated our banter and actually want to see these films?

GREG: Go to to check out the trailers and get tickets. We also have interviews with directors and other soccer celebrities. (Does Alexi Lalas count as that? Whatever.)

Also, we're on Twitter. It's witty and soccer film-ish. Is that a word?

JOHN: If we're going to allow "soccerism" and "buffdom," I think "film-ish" is acceptable. Good luck with the festival.

What is your all-time favorite soccer film? And: Knightley or Blunt? Tell us below.

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