In case you didn’t know it – or are too busy to care even – today as it is every 4th day of every 4th month of the year is International Mine Awareness Day: An event originally established by the UN to high-light the lethal legacy that war leaves behind in the form of Landmines and the efforts to clear them and raise awareness in communities affected by them; Although I would also add there are many other hazards that war leaves behind including discarded weapons – which become lethal toys in the wrong/small hands unexploded mortars, grenades, bullets, chemical toxins and Depleted Uranium – or DU – all of which for generations will go on causing unnecessary deaths, injury, suffering, birth-defects/disabilities and trauma long after hostilities officially cease.
Recent feature films like the award-winning Danish production: Under the sand or Land of Mine (depending on where you see it around the planet and in what language) have highlighted the problem of landmines and UXO (Unexploded Ordinance) in a historical context in a powerful World War 2 set drama that reveals how the Danish Government – and their allies – used young German P.O.W’s to clear minefields at a considerable human cost (a reality/truth which apparently is still an un-official official secret in the UK – as well as probably being in breach of the Geneva Convention’s: Articles of War)
For my part over the past 21 years I have been highlighting this problem as a film-maker by following the work of football coach Scotty Lee and his Mine Risk education charity Spirit of Soccer around the planet. To-date I’ve completed 2 channel 4 screened TV films with Scotty and SoS: Louder than Bombs! (set in Bosnia) and A Different Pitch (filmed in Kosova and Macedonia) and am working and looking to complete a third and final ‘Big Picture’ called Minefield; which when completed will have filmed in many conflict and post-conflict environments around the planet over more than 2 decades.
And while I struggle with the sad economic and creative reality of being an aging film-maker in a cash-strapped business that’s obsessed with ‘New Talent development’ and an elitist Documentary profession that’s increasingly about construct, Scotty Lee and Spirit of Soccer meanwhile continue with the real work in a story which I know will never have a happy Hollywood ending.
When I started filming with a reluctant Scotty Lee, the project was just him: A traumatized former aid convoy driver with a football dream and a dodgy taste in sports-wear, a bunch of second-hand footballs and a young Croat/Muslim (ie: Yugoslav) assistant called Vedran who had lost his teenage years as well as his professional football career living in a basement on the frontline close to Sarajevo airport in the war. Back then their message was simple:
Question: What do you need to be a Professional Footballer?
Answer: Your Legs!!
21 years on and countless wars and casualties later and Scotty Lee’s football dream and Spirit of Soccer have become a US State department funded NGO who operate and inspire around the planet. In the Middle East in particular at the moment the project employs local football coaches that cross ethnic/gender and religious divides and their work deals not just with UXO and landmines but also with the human Minefield that decades of conflict in the region have created, with their mission now including child protection and women’s rights and tackling the abuse, hatred and divisions that has been created by the Daesh.
As for me and the reason why I have continued to pursue this project as a filmmaker with and without funding – or Producers come to think of it – through the last and lost sweat of my youth and what’s left of a career of sorts?
Well – I’ve come to realize that if football is just a game then so is filmmaking.
Because – and to use a well-worn football cliché here – “At the end of the day “both have the ability to not just reflect on and capture the spirit of all that’s good (and sometime bad) about humanity, but also the power to highlight the possibility of a better world….