Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Laduma and the US adventure in South Africa

It was during a trip to Mexico City in 2009 that inspiration struck Ashwin Chaudhary.

A longtime filmmaker, the New York native embedded with a rambunctious group of zealous US soccer fans traveling to the US-Mexico World Cup qualifier at the fortress Azteca in August nearly two years ago. Chaudhary smuggled in a small camera, and what he captured - most of which curdles the blood of any US fan with plans on someday making the trek - became Part 2 of an eventual documentary entitled The Road to South Africa (all of which is on YouTube here).

"He really just snuck the camera into the stadium and got some absolutely amazing footage there," film partner Jonathan Korn said. "That's really where this whole thing started. We thought we had something really cool there."

The Azteca, with its intimidating pillars of concrete and its full-throated violence, was the unlikely birthing place for a much bigger, more ambitious project.

Buoyed by a few intense shooting experiences during the US's qualification cycle, including a trip to a then-government-less Honduras, Chaudhary and Korn came up the the idea to set off for the World Cup in South Africa in 2010 with little more than a few cameras and buckets of enthusiasm to document the event from a US fan's perspective.

That turned into Laduma, a full-length soccer documentary slated for its debut later this fall. The two interspersed interviews with Alexi Lalas and ESPN's Bob Ley with first-hand accounts taken from the streets, parking lots and stadiums of South Africa. All with the US fan in mind.

"I think what this documentary is more than anything, it's kind of an encapsulation of the experience of being at the World Cup," Korn said. "We want people, when you watch the documentary, to feel like you're there and kind of relive the experience of it."

The two high school friends formulated a plan of attack before the World Cup, eventually creating a Facebook fan page and raising a few thousand dollars to cover the travel expenses. After some initial question marks, the trip was on.

"We just basically had our cameras rolling the whole time we were there," Korn said.

If the trailer is any indication, they picked up some inspiring footage. Over the span of the tournament, they crisscrossed the country, scouring both city and countryside to document the experience from the perspective of Yanks abroad while simultaneously recording ample spools of local South Africans and their reactions. Few moments were more wonderfully virginal than their experience in a low income Johannesburg fan park watching the South Africa-Mexico curtain raiser with thousands of locals. The explosion of emotion after Siphiwie Tsabalala's equalizer is captured in all its goosebump-inducing glory.

"We really fell in love with the people there, and as a soccer nation too," Korn said. "We went to some of the ghettos in the bigger cities and we brought a soccer ball, and once it started going around, people were coming from a different world we never experienced, kicking the ball around. That bond was powerful."

Through their time documenting the American soccer experience abroad, Korn and Chaudhary had their experience crystallized during their trip to the US-Honduras qualifier. While it may not have been the film's original intention, it very well may challenge the widely held belief in certain corners of the world that the US continues to be a unkempt frontier for rabid soccer fandom.

"Everyone we met there was just so happy that there was a group that was representing the US," Korn said. "It's a great exchange of cultures at soccer games that you don't really experience anywhere else in the sporting world."

Korn said they expect to enroll Laduma, a South African phrase typically shouted during goal celebrations, into several film festivals once they polish off the final round of editing in the next few months. I probably join the rest of you in my excitement for the release.

Greg posted the official trailer last week during his unveil, but I'll put it back up here for anyone who missed it.

- Will Parchman


jon said...

Argh, I thought that auto-playing Alexi clip was banished to the archives...but it's back!

Jay said...

Can I encourage you to start setting the autoplay param to 0 on these vimeo embeds? It's awkward to open a full tab set of footie blogs, and then have to find the one part of one page that is squawking at me...

Greg Seltzer said...

It's not auto-playing for me. We shut that off. I hate that, too.

Jay said...

It's the very last tag in the src url you're using in the video embed, currently set to "autoplay=1". Change that to "autoplay=0", and you're golden.

Maybe you have a browser option that disables autoplay for you locally that the rest of us don't have...