TALKBACK: Catching up with "Soka Afrika" producer Simon Laub

We recently released the powerful documentary Soka Afrika to stream. K+S caught up with Soka Afrika producer Simon Laub in between an adventure in Las Vegas and a business trip to the 2019 Toronto Film Festival.


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K+S: What drew you to the story of Soka Afrika?

LAUB: Myself, Suridh Hassan, his partner Ryo Sanada, and my partner Sam Potter came across a couple articles in the news about young African kids who were aspiring footballers turning up in Europe and being abandoned. Being interested in the subject we all started researching and seeing what we could find.

The more we looked the more we couldn’t believe what we were seeing.

The first tip of the iceberg was when we discovered Jean Claude Mbvoumin’s name as head of an NGO called Culture Foot Solidaire, who seemed to be the only ones who were visible and pragmatically doing something about the issue. We contacted him, and before actually meeting, decided we had to get to the bottom of what was going on. And the best way to do that was to make a doc.

K+S: What were some of the challenges you encountered during filming?

LAUB: The biggest challenge in making a documentary of this nature is trust. It's crucial to spend enough time with the people you are filming for everyone to get comfortable and ideally to start to forget there is a camera on them, especially in a sporting situation. It's natural to be defensive or guarded, especially given our subject matter, and I think it helped us a lot that it was clear to everyone involved that we were trying to do a positive thing in exposing a huge negative to public scrutiny and debate.

We also allowed a long time filming: over 2 yrs, to catch aftereffects of the World Cup and to allow the characters to develop and the story to breathe. Ndomo and all the other boys we met, Jean Claude and Kermit all understood that this story is important and desperately needs attention, media and resources. Trafficking in football is still happening right now! We unfortunately expected that 10 years later FIFA would have delivered some or any of their promises shown in our film by Sepp Blatter in the hilariously titled “Conference for Hope” in South Africa in the run up to the 2010 World Cup. But it's the system that needs to change, and I don’t think its in their interest.


Kermit Erasmus, one of the stars of  Soka Afrika,  playing with South Africa’s national team.

Kermit Erasmus, one of the stars of Soka Afrika, playing with South Africa’s national team.

K+S: The two main characters of the film, Kermit Erasmus (pictured above) and Ndomo Sabo (pictured below), were up-and-coming talents at the time of the film. Today, Kermit is still playing, starring for Cape Town FC and BAFANA BAFANA in South Africa. What about Ndomo?

LAUB: Ndomo is happy. He is happily married with kids in London, where he now lives. But he is, unfortunately, retired from football. At the end of the film, we see Ndomo sign for Spanish club Deportivo la Coruña. He played successfully for them for almost a season. Then, sadly, he was badly injured at Deportivo and forced into early retirement.

Ndomo Sabo, one of the stars of  Soka Afrika,  when he was healthy and playing professionally.

Ndomo Sabo, one of the stars of Soka Afrika, when he was healthy and playing professionally.

K+S: Since the film was released, what, if anything, has changed for African players being brought to Europe?

LAUB: Honestly, it's impossible to know definitively, but I would wager that very, very little has changed. You don’t have to look much farther than the recent ban and non-ban of Chelsea and Manchester City, respectively. If you analyse the situation, you see that they both signed many of the top players from Africa as well as other countries who are younger than 18. How? What was the consequence?

K+S: You are a big footy fan yourself. What club do you support and why?

LAUB: I support the glorious champions of Europe -- Liverpool. Honestly, I had no choice. My Dad took me and my older brother to the FA Cup Final, Liverpool vs Everton. I was very young. We won. My brother already supported them. I was along for a lifetime. I'm very happy about it obviously (now), but having lived in London until I was 35 years old, all my angry Londoner friends can’t handle it.

K+S: If you could make a soccer film right now, what story would you tell?

LAUB: If I could, I would probably make a film about a ragtag group of Sunday league footballers who beat all the odds and managed to make history. It would probably be called Holy Mount Zion.

NEW RELEASE: Award-winning documentary "Soka Afrika" now available to stream via K+S!

For some young soccer players in Africa, signing with a club in Europe is not just a dream; it's the only dream.

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It is a hard dream to realize, with countless pitfalls, from unscrupulous agents to injuries, broken promises to family shame.

Soka Afrika, which won the "Golden Whistle" award at the 2011 Kicking + Screening Soccer Film Festival, explores the good, the bad, and the ugly of soccer immigration from Africa to Europe, as seen through the journeys of two young players, Kermit Erasmus from South Africa and Ndomo Sabo from Cameroon.

74 Min | England | 2011 | English | Director: Suridh Hassan | Producer: Simon Laub | Executive Producer: Sam Potter & Ryo Sanada

RELEASE PARTY!

Join K+S and Radio Free Soccer for a special #SoccerSocialHour to celebrate the release of Soka Afrika. Thursday, September 19, at NYC's famous soccer pub Smithfield Hall.

Women's soccer doc "Football for Better or for Worse" is now available to stream

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The USA and Sweden square off on the world stage at the Women's World Cup, and it looks amazing.

Back home, the picture is not so rosy.

That's the point of the brilliant soccer documentary Football for Better or for Worse, which is available to stream now on the Kicking + Screening Media Group website.

Directed by Inger Molin, Football for Better or for Worse wowed audiences and won the Golden Whistle at the K+S Soccer Film Festival in 2018. The film tells the story of Swedish club FC Rosengård. It is one of the world's top women’s clubs. But that doesn’t mean everything is easy.

This timely documentary explores the inherent struggles of women’s football, following the team through a dramatic year of triumph and loss. Led in the front office by a new sporting director, former Swedish international Therese Sjögran, and on the field by Brazilian superstar Marta, the club fights every day to lift the women’s game.

Can they win?

K+S Filmmaker Interview: Inger Molin's strong message about women footballers

(NOTE: This Q+A was originally published on May 10, 2018.)

Football for Better or for Worse follows FC Rosengård, one of the best women's teams in the world. Led by new sporting director Therese Sjögran and Brazilian star Marta, the club fights every day to lift the women’s game. Can they win?

Director Inger Molin discussed with Kicking + Screening the making of the film, the plight of women's soccer around the globe, and Marta's exceptional singing ability.

Football for Better or for Worse is now available to stream via the K+S Media Group website. Watch it now!


K+S: How did you first come to the story of FC Rosengård and what appealed to you about telling it in a documentary?

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I had lunch with the CEO of FC Rosengård, Klas Tjebbes, in January 2015. He had the year before left his job at an advertising agency after 25 years in the business. He always had his heart in football and felt confident that he could join the club and make a difference, using his PR skills to handle the tricky financial situation. After five months of hard work he realized that it was much more complex and harder than he had expected. He was tired. And he was angry, so upset about UEFA’s way of financially handling the Women Champions League. Their monetary contribution to the women teams didn’t at all even cover travel and hotel costs. In order for FC Rosengård to be able to attend the tournament, they needed to get financial support from the city of Malmö. UEFA gave 0.2 percent of the money to women teams, and 99.8% to the men. Outrageous...

When I told this story to a director of photography colleague of mine, Bill Watts, who works a lot with documentaries, he instantly felt that this is a story that we should tell. And with one of the best women players ever in the team, Marta, we could get attention to the important financial and gender structure issue.

K+S: What was your goal in making Football for Better or for Worse? Do you think it has had a positive effect on women’s football in Sweden? Around the world?

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My goal was to get the message out, without portraying women footballers as victims. I wanted to show strong, passionate, and professional football players being treated unfair by just telling the fact of the weird distribution of money.

Young girls should have the same possibilities as young boys to choose the profession of being a football player. This wasn’t a possibility just 10 years ago, but now it is. And this is great. Things are changing for the better. Slowly.

The film was shown at national TV in Sweden during spring 2017, and available on their online Play - more than 130,000 viewers. At the same time, there was a public discussion going on regarding women football and economics. I hope our film contributed.

In making the film, I think the players felt they got seen, feeling that their story is important. Since the film got finalized, many players have left FC Rosengård, starting playing in other European clubs. In this way you could say that the ”spirit” of the film has spread internationally, the players are the best ambassadors. And when the film is being shown at sport film festivals, the message is also spread. This was my big goal with this project.

K+S: Football for Better or for Worse has a pretty specific point of view. Did you have that idea and those opinions when you started filming or did you come to them as you spent more time with the team?

The process started with anger, frustration about the unfairness of money within football. This feeling was confirmed during the production. But during the journey this feeling was mixed with the great passion for football the girls have. It got so clear to me, that there is no difference between woman and men footballers regarding this. And the inequality is not specific for football, it reflects the structure in society.

When screening the film for the first time at a big theater in Malmö, with many young girls footballers in the audience, it was a great feeling when they all looked so proud afterwards. This was a film with their role models, a film about them. And when a 20-year-old guy asked me if it was possible to get a poster of the film, the cool pic of Therese Sjögran, I really felt we had succeeded!

K+S: What’s the best story about Marta that didn’t make it into the film?

Marta is very dedicated in making a difference for women football. So she was definitely okay with us hanging around the pitch, following the team with our camera. But she is a very humble and shy person in public, and it was clear to us that she didn’t want to stand out from the team as some kind of superstar. I would say that all the things we got with Marta got into to final edit. My only disappointment was that we couldn’t use her singing when she played in the hotel lobby after the loss in the CL quarter final in Frankfurt. Marta has a good voice and she played a song of the Brazilian group Tribalistas. Due to rights issues, we had to make an alternative creative sound edit. Because I definitely wanted the scene in the film, since it was very emotional, coming close to Marta.

K+S: The World Cup is coming up this summer. Who ya got?

Haha… you mean the World Cup NEXT summer? There is a journalist in Sweden that calls our women's national team the "Real National team," the team that wins games! ;)

Seriously, I am not that into men's football but of course Brazil is always close to heart. And the small nation of Iceland is always a thrill to watch, speaking of strong team spirit.

The manager of the Swedish national team, Janne Andersson, is an old friend of mine and of course I wish him and our Swedish team all the best of luck. However, I am not sure that we will go all the way…! ;)

Thank you, New York, for supporting another amazing K+S festival

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You did it, New York. You raised the bar again (!) with your passion for the game -- in all its manifestations -- and with your steadfast support for the Kicking + Screening Soccer Film Festival in New York.

It was a week full of topnotch features, outstanding shorts, captivating panels, and world-class fun. All in all, three out of four nights were sold out, and every night was a blast.

A few highlights from last week's #KSFilmFest:

Night 1: The humor and humility of world champion foosballers Tony Spredeman (pictured below), Rob Mares, and Todd Loffredo after the screening of Joe Heslinga's Foosballers. They were genuinely thrilled to be there, and happily attended the late-night foosball tournament at Fat Cat. Rumor is it went til 5AM!

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Night 2: If you're not a fan of Eintracht Frankfurt after seeing The Return of the Cup and the Q+A with board member Axel Hellmann (pictured below, second from left), then we don't know what to say. His excitement about the future of Eintracht was infectious.

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Night 3: The emotional rollercoaster of an evening dedicated to strong, amazing women and stories about breaking down barriers. It was capped off by the rousing panel featuring Tracy Hamm (star of Coach), Mandy Freeman(Sky Blue FC player), and Eglantina Zingg (founder of Goleadoras).

Freeman's comments pretty much summed it up. "Greatness has no gender, has no race, has no sexual orientation. It’s just, if you’re a great player, you’re a great player & that’s all that should matter.” Well said.

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Night 4: Bagpipes led a procession of the Kearny, NJ, soccer community up Park Ave. Yes, bagpipes. And that set the tone for a raucous, fun world premiere of Soccertown USA and the Closing Night Party presented by the New York Red Bulls. A fitting way to end.

The end. It's the worst part of the festival even if Night 4 is always fun. We have to thank all of the filmmakers, the partners and friends, our incredible volunteers -- shoutout to Jessie and Barbara! -- everyone at Scandinavia House, and, most important, you, the passionate soccer community that brought our 11th festival in NY to life in such a fantastic way.

We can't wait for year 12. See you then!

P.S. Check out who won the Golden Whistle for the best film at K+S New York 2019.

P.P.S. Check out who won our new audience honor, the Player Pass Award.