Inside a Soccer Soap Opera in Africa

Posted on June 24, 2010

With World Cup fever upon us, Patrick Reed, director of the upcoming ITVS International production The Team, describes filming the making of a soap opera about soccer in Kenya. The fictional program was intended to unite and distract Kenyans in the aftermath of violence following the 2007 elections. The film is still in production. 

With the 2010 World Cup in full swing, the eyes of the world are on Africa.Each morning — before rushing off to the edit suite in Toronto, Canada, where I live — starts with a guilty pleasure: eating breakfast in front of the TV and watching the early morning World Cup match with my 4-year-old son and 2-year-old daughter. For my kids, the novelty of watching TV in the morning compensates for their difficulty following the action. Lots of questions, of course, such as: “Why do the players keep falling down?” And, “What’s happening?” when the referee brandishes a red card and sends a player off (something my kids keenly appreciate, as they are very familiar with the concept of being penalized for bad behavior).

Still from "The Team" (photo by Peter Ndolo)

Films I’ve made in Africa — including Shake Hands with the Devil and Triage — were neither easy to make, nor easy to watch. I was hardly suffering from “Africa fatigue,” but did want to explore a different side of the so-called African story: one that wasn’t about a Western outsider on a pilgrimage back to the past, or on a crusade into the future. Rather, a story set in the present where Africans played the starring role, active participants instead of passive victims. So, I was immediately intrigued when I heard that a Kenyan production company — borrowing an idea from the innovative U.S.-based NGO Search for Common Ground — was creating a TV soap opera series called The Team, hoping to captivate an audience and compel their nation to confront issues like tribalism. 

We started filming in December 2008 on our first of four shoots in Kenya over the period of a year. As a thousand aspiring actors auditioned at Kenya’s national soccer stadium — an appropriate location since the soap opera follows a soccer team composed of players from warring tribes — our crew was immediately struck by the idealism of the final cast. Some had never acted before and all were from different backgrounds in terms of tribe and class, but all seemed committed that the soap opera might just change their nation, and would undoubtedly change their lives. Finally, I thought, here was my positive “African story.”  Well, without giving too much away, that was a bit of wishful thinking on my part. In soccer, as in life, it’s easy to celebrate a victory but the real test of character is how you react to a loss that’s as painful and as a kick to the head, and a blow to the heart. And that, more than anything, is what The Team is about. 


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