Here at The Film Stage, we strive to bring the most current, accurate information about new emerging or releasing projects in the cinematic world. Often, the support you the viewer then show to a film your interested in is to pass on these news stories, which spreads awareness, or to hopefully see them in their opening weekend, so their box office numbers can warrant a wider release. But wouldn’t it be nice if you could make a deeper impact.
Allow me to introduce you to Eugene Martin and his feature-length documentary film The Anderson Monarchs. The Anderson Monarchs are an all-girls soccer team who compete, live, and thrive in an at-risk urban neighborhood in Philadelphia. The director, Eugene Martin, a critically acclaimed filmmaker whose work looks intimately at issues of youth, the inner city, poverty, and social justice, discovered the Monarchs when he began coaching his daughter’s soccer team, and was drawn to their story.
Having completed the filming of the project, Martin now hopes to raise funds to help them proceed with editing and finishing, so that this project may find it’s way to festivals and audiences. We were able to catch-up with Eugene in the interview below, which we hope you will take the time to read as it was very inspiring for us to participate in, but even more importantly, we hope you’ll visit the project’s Kickstarter page, and help contribute to their completion funds.
Our interview with director, Eugene Martin:
TFS: Can you tell us a bit about the project, and how you came to the idea?
Martin: I’ve been a filmmaker for a while, I directed a couple films, one was called Edge City and the other was called Diary of a City Priest, and that was about a priest who works in a poor parish in Philadelphia. I started teaching at a [Temple University] in Philadelphia after that, and I was in a period when I wasn’t working as intensely on my films, and I started coaching soccer for my children.
I had to learn, because as I said, my daughter wouldn’t listen to her coach, so I had to start coaching, and we got a group of girls together, and we actually started to form, I guess they’re called select teams or travel teams back east. We started to get pretty good, and we started to play, and within a year we started to play the Anderson Monarchs every year. And they would just absolutely take us apart. And we really didn’t lose that much. I was really amazed at how good they were. We always dreaded playing them because we literally couldn’t score on them.
I got to know the coach a little bit, Walter Stewart, and as the girls got older, we would see them in competitions, and then I started working in the non-fiction space around that time, and was researching ideas for documentaries. I had just done a documentary about African American boys for local PBS, and I was interested in doing something about girls. One thing led to another, and I researching the Anderson Monarchs, and when I was down on the field, Sports Illustrated writer Michael Bamberger came by. He really didn’t know anything about soccer, so he asked me, “Hey, can you explain to me why they’re good?” And, I found myself explaining to him, and he quoted me, and then I had been taking some stills, and he used three of my stills that were published nationally in Sports Illustrated.
When I saw it in that context, because it was more of a local story for me, when I saw the story through a national pair of glasses, I got the idea together that this could be a story with a wider impact, because of who the girls are and how they come together. It’s not just about soccer; it’s about so many other things, for the coach, the parents, and the kids. The kids think it’s about soccer, but it’s really a lot about sisterhood…
It’s an interesting thing because the club virtually runs on no money; they share a patch of field with, not exaggerating, three football teams, a dozen baseball teams… Their soccer field is half a baseball diamond, literally, and the rest of it is weeds. There is no grass on their soccer pitch…
It really started as a really personal idea, do something for girls, and it came out of working with my own daughter and her friends. It also became in part a self-image piece. A lot of girls that play sports, especially ones that tend to be good, are muscular, and you find yourself making sure they feel okay about themselves. I think our girls are assaulted so much by the media, and I think that girls that stick with athletics learn to accept their bodies a little better and they start to create healthy life habits, like their diet and how they work in their homework around practice. If you’re four or five days a week, and you’ve got two hours of homework a night, you have to figure out when you’re going to do it, and that discipline…
But I would say the root of the question comes from a very personal place. The challenge is to make it work for an audience, so they can relate to it. That’s the challenge of any good film I suppose.
TFS: It may be known to some that the girls are winners on the field, but you’ve also had the opportunity to observe them in their communities. How would you describe them in these environments?
Martin: One of the things that’s pretty amazing is that three of the girls are sisters; they are all studying poetry and writing poetry. They participate in a community-based program called Mighty Writers, and we followed them in that process. And they actually performed in the clip, a practice of a poetry performance.
The other thing is that they’re going to great schools; they’re either in the best public schools or the best private academies, and a lot of girls from the Monarchs are going to be the first ones to go to college in their family. So, that’s a clearly stated goal of the program, to make sure the girls are focusing on academics throughout. With youth sports, there’s a line between children being exploited for their athletic ability and forgetting the academics. Whereas, all of the girls from the Anderson Monarchs are told from the very beginning, “you can never neglect your academics, because that’s what’s going to carry you through.” There are girls who aren’t going to get a scholarship and who aren’t going to get recruited by an academy team, but they’re very good players, and they also happen to be excellent students.
A lot of the girls participate in things like community service. The other thing they do is they raise money for the club themselves; they do fundraisers, car washes, roller skating, they go around to festivals with a jar… They do more community service for their own cause than most kids do for anything combined.
They haven’t had new uniforms for two years because they can’t afford them. That’s the reality of their situation. I’ve been on the field when they haven’t been able to pay the ref fees, because there are three referees at a game. I’ve been on the field when there was a shooting fifty yards away. Playing soccer where they play is very challenging.
I think that the girls are realizing from a very early age, even from the ages of six, seven, eight, that their success on the soccer field is matched by their success in school, and then success as they go out as young women. You can really see the confidence that they have… I always have this image that they’re like butterflies that are going out; wherever they go, they exhibiting leadership and service. They’re not just “Oh, I’m a Monarch and I play soccer,” it’s more like “I’m a writer, I’m a scholar, I’m somebody that cares about my community. “
TFS: In the project, how many girls do you follow, and for what period of time?
Martin: It’s almost three years, and we actually have followed altogether thirteen girls, but we’re narrowing it down to five that we’re really going to see close-up. When I first started the project, it was going to be a half hour for local PBS. Then I thought it would be great as an hour for national PBS. Now I’m thinking it could be 90 to 120 minutes, because we have so many great stories…
I was at a tournament in Florida with them when they came in ninth in the world last year, and there were coaches that would walk across the field just to meet the girls and tell them they’re doing a great job. They’re like, “I need to meet this kid,” or “That’s one of the most phenomenal players I’ve ever seen.” There’s this whole thing with sports that great players also have great character, and I think we’ve been able to capture that.
It’s hard to choose the girls. It’s interesting; we’re not just choosing the superstars. Two of the girls we’re following are just two regular girls, good players but not outstanding players, good students but not great students. But, in terms of who they’re becoming as young women, they’re becoming great young women. It’s interesting how in our culture, we worship the sports hero, but we often overlook the person who’s really carrying the load. The person who’s at ever practice, the person whose mom sells hotdogs at every single game… it’s interesting the notion of who a hero is, and what is success.
The stakes are very high. The city is a very powerful antagonist in the film; the violence that’s there, the education system, the opportunities for young black girls. All of these things that we take for granted but them, they are everyday obstacles that exist and must be overcome. Being a part of this club is a way for them to start to overcome that…
TFS: How far along are you currently on the project?
Martin: We’re editing. We might have a little more filming to do; we’re waiting on three girls applying to schools in the fall that are in eighth grade. There could be one school that gets four of the girls, so that’s an image we want to capture… But in terms of filming, we’ve shoot 500 hours, and I think we have enough.
One of the great things is that we were able to capture soccer over a few years, and I was able to use multiple cameras; I really got an opportunity to do things in slow motion and then shoot on film and put the camera in different places than you would normally see on television. I got aid from the Sundance Documentary Fund last June, and I was really able to go in deeper to the girls’ lives and their stories, and truthfully I could spend years there with all thirteen girls that we were following, and it would be massive. The editing job is absolutely massive, it’s almost indescribable.
TFS: Tell us about the support you’ve received so far, and what you hope to accomplish with the funds from your Kickstarter campaign?
Martin: I have to very generous grants from the Philadelphia foundation, and then we got a grant from the Sundance Documentary Fund, and pretty much all of that money helped get the film shot. And then the editing started, so everything’s logged, you’ve got it organized, and now we’re in this gap. I have this perception that because I got a Sundance grant, people think it’s going to be fine, but it’s really hard to raise money for a documentary, it’s basically impossible. So, it’s essentially something that is filmed, but not edited yet.
I had the opportunity to go to Sundance this year. When you get a grant, you get support for a year, and do other activities with them, so they just kicked this off to go to Sundance as a fellow, a directing fellow, for a four-day conference inside of the festival. So I went to that, and while I was there they mentioned they were launching this partnership with Kickstarter to cross-promote films. I thought that would be great for me, because I applied for grants in December, I won’t hear till May, but the Sundance deadline and a bunch of [festival] deadlines are in the fall, so I thought I really needed some funding to make this push now… that’s why I got on it as quick as I could after the festival, to get that launched so I’d have five months to edit, which sounds like a lot of time, but it really isn’t.
We’ve done a lot of work; we’ve been through all the material, everything’s organized, I kind of know who all the characters are and what the storylines are, it’s pretty well mapped out, but it is a little bit of a needle in a haystack at the moment…
So that’s how that came about, and we had a really strong beginning, and then a loll in the middle, which I hear is typical, and I’m hoping for the last week it’s strong. I think I’m a glass-half-full kind of person by nature. We have  backers, which is good, and we probably have to get it up to 300, but I think we’ll do it.
Do you other film projects you know being funded on Kickstarter, and do you think it’s changing the way films are financed?