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Scoring on the big screen


A scene from 'Foot of God' by Luis Sardiello

Football is the theme of a week-long movie package at this year's International Film Festival of India in Goa.

When Eric Cantona deadpans, 'I am not a man, I am Cantona', in British director Ken Loach's film Looking for Eric, the punchline comes as the equivalent of a goal. The former Manchester United legend, who gives lifesaving advice to a fan in the 2009 film, symbolises the merger of star power now happening in the mass entertainment medium. Italian football star Toto Schillaci, who won the golden boot in the 1990 World Cup, appears in Amore, Bugie e Calcetto (Love, Lies and Soccer) released in Italy in 2008. A full 90-minute match between Spanish clubs Real Madrid and Villareal is shown in Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait by Douglas Gordon and Philippe Parreno.

Gone are the days of films like Escape to Victory (1981), starring Pele, when football was a minor element in the larger plot. Today, full-length football films are shot from Berlin to Buenos Aires, Mexico City to Madrid and Tel Aviv to Thiruvananthapuram. Topping the charts a year ago in Portugal was the football version of William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, aptly titled Star Crossed. The life of a referee known for his controversial decisions was the topic of Salir Pitando (Blinkers ), a box-office hit in Spain in 2007. At this year's Oscar awards, the entry from South Korea for the Best Foreign Language Film was a football movie, Bal-Eui Ggoom (A Barefoot Dream). One of the top-grossing films in Germany this year is Der ganz gro?e Traum (Lessons of a Dream), about how a German student returning from Cambridge brought the English game of football to Germany in the 19th century.

Football is the hottest commodity in the entertainment market today. According to a recent survey commissioned by the German Sport+Markt group, 4. 7 billion worldwide watched English Premier League alone last season. The figure for global movie admissions in 2009 was 6. 7 billion. With billions across the globe tuning in for live action from the EPL, football has risen to a level of entertainment never seen before. Not to be beaten at its own game, cinema is now joining in the fun with a genre of football films.

With the World Cup in Brazil only a little over two years away, several movies are being made which search for the balance between entertainment and culture, says Oscar Maron, a Brazilian filmmaker who directed a documentary on the culture of football in his country last year. "A recovery of the association between football, movies and the public is taking place in Brazil today. There are several enticing football-related documentaries and feature films, which enter the market to conquer the audience with a new social and poetic approach, " says Maron.

Between the 1950s and 1970s, FIFA used to choose only Brazilian producers for officially filming World Cup tournaments. In Brazil, which has created a football film language, it was mandatory for cinemas until the 1980s to show football newsreels before a feature film. Maron's own film Mario Filho: The Creator of Crowds, about football through the eyes of Mario Filho, the foremost football writer in Brazil, banks heavily on archival footage from this period.

In the genre of football films, though the distinction between documentary and feature movies is always maintained, it is usually the presence of a football star (Cantona in Looking for Eric) or the story of a real life hero (the life of South Korean coach Kim Sin-Hwan, known as East Timor's Guus Hiddink, the former Dutch and Chelsea coach, in A Barefoot Dream), that draws the audience to cinemas. "The football fan feels that the truth about football is theirs alone, " says Argentine filmmaker Juan Pablo Roubio, who made Argentina Futbol Club, which is about the classic rivalry between the country's major clubs, Boca Juniors and River Plate. "Each fan has a truth. It is fascinating, " he adds. In many ways, that truth of the fan about a football game and the uncertainty of a film ending are strikingly similar. Germany's 1954 World Cup winning squad's coach Sepp Herberger was once asked why football was so immensely popular among the masses. His reply was: "Because we don't know how it (the match) will end. "

Filmmakers across the world are trying to put entertainment between the truth and the uncertainty to cash in on the huge popularity of the beautiful game. Sons of Sakhnin United, an Israeli-United States coproduction in 2009, uses football to search for peace through the story of an Arab club winning the prestigious Israeli Cup by fielding a team of Arab and Jewish players. A mainstream director in Kerala made a Malayalam film called Sevens, based on a local football version of seven-member teams early this year. Vivek Agnihotri made Dhan Dhana Dhan Goal, a Bollywood film set in England, three years ago, and Gurinder Chadha's hugely successful Bend it Like Beckham came in 2002. It may have come a long time after Mohun Baganer Meye (Mohun Bagan's Daughter ) made in West Bengal in 1975 and Hip Hip Hooray by Prakash Jha in 1984. But today, football fever has surely caught the film world.

(IFFI kicks off in Goa on Nov 23)

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