You may have heard of South Philadelphia’s Anderson Monarchs. The team and their coach, Walter Stewart, were nominated for Sports Illustrated’s Sportsman/Sports Team of the Year award in 2008. The Guardian said they might be the most important sports team in the United States. They are a very good team.
In a sport largely dominated by white, suburban players, they are also the only all-black, inner city girls soccer club in the U.S.
Over the past three years, the critically acclaimed filmmaker Eugene Martin has followed the lives of five of the Monarchs and their coach for a feature-length documentary. With over 500 hours of footage, now comes the critical—and costly—work of editing, color correction (seven cameras were used in the course of filming), recording the soundtrack and sound mixing.
A fundraiser is currently underway at Kickstarter.com to raise the money needed to complete the film. As of this writing, about half of the $25,000 goal has been reached. Kickstarter works on an “all or nothing” policy. If the $25,000 goal is not met by the campaign deadline of Thursday, April 21 at 2:49pm, the film will receive nothing.
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Director Eugene Martin recently talked with the PSP about the origins of the film, the challenges faced by the Anderson Monarchs as well as the challenges of trying to make an independent film about an inner-city soccer team.
Philly Soccer Page: In the Anderson Monarchs film project description at Kickstarter.com, you tell a very funny story about how you first came to know the team through coaching your daughter’s soccer team. Had you played soccer before becoming a coach?
Eugene Martin: I grew up in Germantown, and we played in the street. I mostly was a skateboarder, but I really loved playing soccer, just kicking it around. No grass! Once in a while we would get enough kids together for a scrimmage. It was boys and girls together. For a while we had a college player who was living with a family on our block, and he would come out and play with us. H was from Ireland. But because we had no teams of any kind near us, we all tried out for the soccer team at Central High School, but we got cut at tryouts. All the kids on the Northeast got on the team as they had been playing on teams and were much better than us. But I always loved to play.
When my son was born, I started to help him out. He is the captain of his soccer team at Masterman, and they just won their division championship this past fall for the first time in years. When my daughter started to play, she was a little demon on the field. She now plays in the highest state division in Texas and got put on varsity as a freshman. I like to say she looks like a Philly point guard on a team with a bunch of kids who never played street ball. The coaches love her. And I take some credit for that!
PSP: The reaction whenever your daughter’s team had to play the Anderson Monarchs was, “Oh no, not them!” Can you tell me about how you came to know the Anderson Monarchs and their coach, Walter Stewart?
EM: I had just started coaching select soccer, or travel soccer as its called here in Philly. Our first season we played in the Philadelphia Indoor Rec League, we were in a U-9 division, but most of the girls were 7. We went down to the Marian Anderson Rec Center, and we lost to this team of all African-American girls called the Anderson Monarchs 5-0. I noticed a real quiet guy was their coach. It was Walter Stewart. And so every year, we would meet them again, and it was always that same result. I think we maybe scored one goal on them over the years. Maybe one, but I could be making that up! I think my daughter scored on them!
PSP: The project description mentions the Anderson Monarchs’ nomination for Sportsman of the Year for 2008 in Sports Illustrated. How did that national recognition help in provoking interest and support for the film about the team?
EM: When the article was published, I had just submitted the project for funding to local PBS as a half hour show along with my assistant director, El Sawyer. I later was awarded funding by a local PBS station, but withdrew my application as I realized this story could have a much bigger audience and be larger in scope.
PSP: The time and financial commitment toward making an independent documentary must be tremendous. Can you describe the kind of support you may have received in making the film from the South Philadelphia community.
EM: When undertaking a project like this, you do need the support of the families. Since I had been a coach and we had played the Monarchs over the years, I was a familiar face to a lot of the parents. In particular, when working with children, I feel it is very important that the whole family be a part of the process.
PSP: Two of your narrative films have been set in North Philadelphia. Can you describe your connection to Philadelphia generally and North Philadelphia in particular?
EM: I do have a long history of working in North Philadelphia. I attended Temple University, and got my BA and MFA there in film. My MFA thesis film, Invisible Cities, is mostly filmed in North Philadelphia. For a while, I was on full time faculty at Temple, and I taught an honors class at the Village of Arts and Humanities called Community Media and the Arts, which I did for three years. In many ways working in that area has shaped a lot of my perspective on social justice and the need to bring certain kinds of issues to the forefront via filmmaking.
Well, the Monarchs come from all over the city, they are not just a local soccer club. The girls feel a very strong bond, and they become very close friends. The simple act of the Anderson Monarch girls putting on uniforms and playing at the high level they play at, venturing out to the suburbs to play well-financed teams, is, in my opinion, a brave and bold act. These girls practice on a field in South Philadelphia that is not even really a soccer pitch. And to say the conditions they have to deal with are harsh is a severe understatement. We were on the field when there was a shooting just 50 yards away, and the coach and parents decided to keep on practicing. That is “normal” to them if you can believe that.
PSP: In the film you follow five of the Anderson Monarchs and their coach over three years. Can you describe some of the challenges these young players and their coach have faced on and off the pitch?
EM: I know for a fact there are some players whose parents have never been to one single game in three years or even longer. There are others who need a ride to every single game, and Coach Walt has this old van that he ferries the girls around in. By the time many of the girls are 13 and 14, the neighborhood starts to pull them away from the team. There have been several girls who have played at the Olympic Development Program level who had quit the team due to lack of support to just be able to get to ODP. And ODP is the main gateway to D1 scholarships in the US. To not continue for the simple reason of not being able to get there is a real shame. Others lose interest as they grow older, and that is a pattern seen in lots of girls who start high school. Other girls are recruited away to super clubs, which can be very difficult. If you take away the best players, you have to start all over making the team good again. On the other hand, if a girl has a chance to be supported with great training year around and play in the Elite Clubs National League and go to showcase tournaments, its hard to tell them not to go. To their credit, the Monarchs have enlisted the Starfinder Foundation to help them with stronger training, and that has helped a lot.
PSP: The parents of the Anderson Monarchs players must have a very important role in the success of the team. Can you describe how being a soccer parent yourself helped you to gain insight and appreciation to the part the parents of the Anderson Monarchs play in the team’s success?
EM: The parents and guardians of The Anderson Monarchs really enjoy being together. They encourage their children to become friends with one another via sleepovers and other social activities. And they each describe the moment they realize they love going to all the practices and all the games, because they have all these friendships with one another. At the end of the day, its not just about soccer, its about community. The parents share family values, social values, and they are very invested in their children being successful people, not just strong athletes. Plus they do a lot of the fundraising. One mom, Ramona Petty, has a little hot dog stand where she sells food at every home game. All the proceeds go to the club. Also, a lot of the parents and guardians are role models for the girls. Several work as assistant coaches, and they come to every single practice to help out Coach Walt.
PSP: You were recently at the Sundance Film Festival as a Documentary Directing Fellow, and the film was profiled on the Sundance website. Can you tell me about the support you have received for the film from the independent filmmaking community?
EM: I feel very very fortunate to find myself in the position I now am. You never really know when you start a project the journey it may or may not take you on. I feel with this project the real journey is just starting as we move into the heavy editing phase. The Sundance Institute and the team at The Good Pitch in London have supported the film, and it has raised the level of its status quite a bit. We are on the radar now for sure, but there is still so much work to be done. All in all it will be a four to five year project — which is quite normal for this kind of film!
Last year during the main filming I flew 60,000 miles! I felt like the guy in “Up in the Air”. When I saw that movie I thought it was so real! I had an empty white apartment just like in the movie. The great thing about being a tenure track professor at UNT is that they really are supporting my creative work, so I was able to create my teaching schedule to work around my filming needs. Now with Skype and the Internet, my editor Ed Givnish is in [New York City], and we are in touch every day. It is like being in the same room with him. In some ways, being outside of the city is helping me see the whole story in a much more powerful way. Ed is also from Philly, and he has been in working outside of Philly for over 25 years. We joke that two ex-Philly guys are making a Philly movie now. We will be in NYC this summer working quite a lot, so it will be pretty neat to actually sit next to him for a few months!
PSP: The film is now at the editing stage. Provided everything goes smoothly, when do you expect the film to be completed?
EM: We hope to have it pretty much done by this fall, with release at film festivals starting in 2012.
PSP: Securing distribution for an independent film must be daunting. Do you know at this point how the film will be distributed?
EM: We really do now know. Ideally the path would be film festivals and screenings, then maybe a theatrical release, then TV, Video on Demand, and home video. But you never know. It could go to one festival and then right to TV or theatrical. We also plan on getting the film around the world.
PSP: Related to the last question, last summer, the filmmakers of the independent soccer film Pelada toured with their film, organizing screenings with the help of soccer communities in various cities. (In Philadelphia they showed the film at International House.) Do you have plans to tour with the film ?
EM: I am aware of that project and have been following it. For me, I am pretty busy with several projects, so I don’t myself have plans to do that with the film. But I do have a plan to have NGO’s do that with the film. With me teaching full-time, that kind of tour would be a challenge for me.
PSP: When all is said and done, what do you hope people will take away from seeing your film, what do you hope the film will achieve?
EM: I would love for people to see how important it is that we offer our American girls opportunities to play sports and develop into strong young women like The Anderson Monarchs, whether they live in the inner city or rural areas. It really is no exaggeration that the Monarchs are making history, and they are doing all of this with virtually no funding at all. They have so much heart, and they are such excellent players and teammates, they are truly inspiring just to be around. Maybe at the end of the film, people from all walks of life will look around and see that one of the most important things you can do is volunteer and create strong communities for children that show you really love them and value them as people. That would be my dream!
Help support the making of The Anderson Monarchs by donating at Kickstarter.com. You can donate as little as $10—every cent helps. Every donation will receive a than you credit in the film. The deadline for the fundraising campaign is Thursday, April 21 at 2:49pm. If the campaign doesn’t reach its $25,000 goal, the project will receive nothing.