The love for soccer among Latinxs is no secret and in director Jun Stinson’s documentary Futbolistas 4 Life, she uses the sport as a vehicle to tell the story of resilience in the face of violence, limited resources and undocumented status.
On the day Stinson visited Life Academy, a predominately Latinx public school in the Fruitvale district of Oakland, California, she learned of the shooting death of a former student. Luis Garibay was one of three Life Academy students or siblings killed during the 2011-2012 school year. Oakland-native Stinson started working on the film in 2012 after learning of the student-led campaign to build a soccer field in the school.
The city and the sport are integral to the story but what gives the film its heartbeat are the students, in particular Ben and April. Ben is a DACA applicant trying to navigate the ramifications of his immigration status in the midst of the possibilities of the Obama-era policy that began in 2012. April was born in California but lives in constant fear of her parents being deported.
Futbolistas 4 Life intertwines their stories with their efforts to create a safe haven in their school through the soccer field. While Ben says in the film that soccer has made him be a “better person”, April plays to show other girls that they don’t have to cheer on the sidelines—that they too can join in.
“That’s why I decided to be a futbolista, I wanted to be an example. I wanted to show girls that not only guys can play, that girls can play too”, she says in the film. The film offers a look into their day to day lives, from the sweet and silly moments April shares with her sister and mom at home, to her talking about the fears and anxieties she has around the possibility of her parents being deported. While through Ben’s story, viewers will get a chance to see how life-changing DACA could be as far as finding a job to help his family and pay for college.
Stinson was inspired by coach Dania Cabello after witnessing her passion for educating students after Cabello invited her to the school. Cabello is a sports educator and Oakland native born to a Chilean family who played a short pro stint in Brazil with Santos FC and later with the Bay Area Breeze. She started the soccer club at Life Academy and acts as an inspirational mentor and advocate for the futbolistas.
“I hope this film inspires audiences to question how we heal our actions, institutions, and laws towards liberation,” Cabello tells Hiplatina. “A film like this gives context to the complexity of these issues while celebrating our resilience and creativity.”
Perhaps in one of the most powerful moments in the film, the students are gathered together commemorating victims of the violence and chanting in unison: “We reject violence and the injustice that profits off of them.” Oakland crime statistics are notoriously grim with high rates of violence and homicide—though in recent years it has slowly begun to decline with an increase in immigration. However, In 2012, there were 131 homicides across all of Oakland– the highest in six years.
Oakland, located in Alameda County in the San Francisco Bay Area, is known as a sanctuary city with about one in three residents being immigrants. Alameda County is home to roughly half a million immigrants with about 129,500 being undocumented in 2014, according to the Alameda County Public Health Department.
This film is a microcosm for the what life is like for students in this urban, under-resourced community, as well as a lens into the complexities of being undocumented.
“[The] film sheds light on how DACA changed the course for undocumented students. It highlights a student’s college application journey as he finds hope in a future he once thought was grim. The film equally focuses on the undocumented family experience,” associate producer Jess Ramirez tells Hiplatina. “Undocumented immigrant parents are often left out of the national discussion on immigration. The fear of detention or deportation can be a daily struggle these families face.”
The film itself is a triumph for the Latinx community, not only because of its focus but thanks to the team behind it. The musical score is by Grammy-winner Adrian Quesada—who was sent a rough cut of the film and wanted to be involved—with additional music by East LA-based chicano band, Las Cafeteras—close friends of Cabello.
The film’s triumphant end shows the building of the soccer field, a $500,000 project through their efforts and a $100,000 grant from the U.S. Soccer Federation that Cabello was awarded in February 2012. The filmmakers themselves raised more than $13,000 through a Kickstarter fund after filming began in 2012 and five and a half years the film is set to screen at the CAAM Film Festival in Oakland today—Tuesday, May 22.
“It’s an important film for people to see now at this time when our country is so politically divided. It offers a way for people who might not know DACA recipients and youth from undocumented families to better understand the real everyday experiences that they have and the challenges they’re faced with,” Stinson tells us. “I want people to understand the power that youth have in creating positive change in their communities and the critical importance that great educators and coaches have on their lives. And I hope the film gets people to think more deeply about who has access to safe places to play and who doesn’t in their own communities, and how we can change those realities.”