Soccer film festival arrives in Houston

If the annual MLS All-Star game is a celebration of soccer, then the Kicking & Screening film festival is the silver-screen version of the summer classic.

Movie buffs and soccer fans alike will converge at Houston's Angelika Film Center for the Kicking & Screening Soccer Film Festival's one-day appearance on Sunday, July 25.

With themes running the gamut from rabid supporters to war to family to referees, the festival will likely do plenty to satisfy fans of the round ball.

But the lineup also looks to impress film critics, too.

"We're really trying to take films that aren't just about soccer, but that stand on their own from a film perspective," festival founder Rachel Markus said. "Just because it's about soccer, it doesn't mean it's a great film."

The festival certainly has great films, though. It's just that they happen to be about soccer.

Among the highlights are Ana's Playground, which follows a child as she tries to retrieve a soccer ball through a war-torn street. The short movie, which was funded entirely though charitable organizations, has won dozens of awards this year. Joining it is The Last Yugoslavian Football Team, a Serbian-produced film that chronicles the final year of the national team once known as the "Brazil of Europe."

"I want people who don't know about the game to leave the festival thinking, 'Wow, that was a great film. I've never seen soccer from that perspective,'" Markus said.

Fans of the Man in the Middle — and let's face it, the game wouldn't be the same without him — will appreciate the Spanish film, El Arbitro, which is a revealing — and often surprising — look inside the life of a La Liga referee. After seeing this film, your perception of a match official may forever change.

Making their first appearance at the festival — which is in its second year — are Rudo Y Cursi, which blends soccer with sibling rivalry; Sixty Six, which is set in England during the country's World Cup-winning campaign; and the remarkable screen interpretation of the bestselling novel, The Damned United, which seeks to burrow inside the head of late British coaching legend Brian Clough.

The festival is a labor of love for Markus, who is both a soccer fan and a film school grad. A portion of the proceeds from the event are directed toward soccer-themed charities and initiatives that use the beautiful game as a vehicle to improve lives.

This weekend's proceeds will help benefit Play31, an organization that "utilizes the unifying power of football to bring together people who have been torn apart by armed conflict," and also The House That Ching Built, which is Houston Dynamo forward Brian Ching's charitable collaboration with Dynamo Charities and Habitat for Humanity. The organization looks to build a house each year for a local family in need.

"We just want to celebrate soccer and film and bring people together," Markus said. "We love soccer, and we see the power of it and how it can give back, so that's part of our mission. We're trying to show that in these movies."

For more information on the festival, and to purchase tickets, visit www.houstondynamo.com/filmfestival.


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