So, here we go. That once every four years global event known as the World Cup kicks off today, for the next 30 days, running from June 12 to July 13.
In celebration, I thought I'd dig through Netflix for any streaming feature documentaries on the sport called football almost everywhere else in the world, except here in the USA, where it's known as soccer.
Pickings are surprisingly slim; I would think that Netflix would've planned for this years in advance, so that, by now, they'd be recommending all kinds of soccer-related films for those subscribers who've shown even a slight interest (like myself) based on past films watched.
But it doesn't appear that they did any planning at all, because, again, pickings are slim. And of those I found, even fewer are actually what I'd call good (based on those I've seen anyway).
The tournament is held once every four years, when the best international soccer team in the world is crowned, after five weeks of play. It's an event that FIFA (the Fédération Internationale de Football Association, the governing body of the sport) says about half of the world's population will watch, which is obviously kind of a big deal - especially for advertisers.
The last World Cup, held in South Africa, saw Spain crowned champion. This year's World Cup is being hosted by Brazil, despite all the criticism the country has faced, that too much money has been spent on stadiums, while local infrastructure projects languish, leading to ongoing protests by citizens of the country. But maybe a win by Brazil will change sentiment - even if it's in the short term? After all, the home country has a historical advantage, winning six of 19 World Cups, and, until South Africa in 2010, had always made it out of the group stage, so the advantage is huge; not that Brazil necessarily needs it.
I expect, in a year or two, we'll be discussing a feature documentary on just how contentious, and drama-filled preparation for this year's World Cup has been.
Again, the tournament starts today, on June 12, and runs through July 13. There will be matches on all but seven days during those weeks, so expect a lot to watch. Just make sure you pay attention to time zones.
To get you in the mood, here are 5 titles streaming on Netflix right now, for you to watch, in no particular order (although the first film on the list I'd say is definitely the best of this bunch):
1 - "The Two Escobars" (2010) directed by Jeff Zimbalist and Michael Zimbalist: In brief, the 2 Escobars - Andres Escobar as team captain of the Colombian soccer team and Pablo Escobar, the infamous drug baron who pioneered the phenomenon known as "Narco-soccer" - helped uplift the Colombian soccer team from obscurity. While rival drug cartels warred in the streets and the country's murder rate climbed to highest in the world, the Colombian national soccer team set out to blaze a new image for their country. What followed was a mysteriously rapid rise to glory, as the team catapulted out of decades of obscurity to become one of the best teams in the world. Central to their success were the 2 above Escobarsnd Pablo. But just when Colombia was expected to win the 1994 World Cup and complete the transformation of its international image, the shocking murder of Andres Escobar dashed those hopes. "The Two Escobars" daringly investigates the secret marriage of crime and sport, and uncovers the surprising connections between the murders of Andres and Pablo, through their glory and tragedy.
Check out the trailer below:
2 - "1:1 Thierry Henry" (2012), directed by Verena Soltiz - After a long and illustrious career with Arsenal and Barcelona, French World Cup hero Thierry Henry moves to the United States to join Major League Soccer's New York Red Bulls. The film offers an intimate portrayal of the star as he gels with his new teammates, battles soccer superpower Manchester United in the MLS All-Star Game, and returns to London for a match against his former club, Arsenal. The documentary goes behind the scenes with the global icon as he begins the latest and arguably most challenging phase of career.
3 - "One Night in Turin" (2010) directed by James Erskine - The film tells the tale of England's soccer team and the nation's journey from despair to hope, intimately depicting the leading characters, star players Paul Gascoigne and Chris Waddle, manager Bobby Robson, and team captain Terry Butcher, all in a celebration of soccer and how it changed the hearts and minds of a whole country.
4 - “The Beautiful Game” directed by Victor Buhler (2012) - The film aims to showcase continental Africa through music, imagery and, of course, soccer. Four years in the making, the production team traveled across the continent collecting unique and inspiring stories about soccer. It's an uplifting film about the powerful impact of sport on communities, featuring some unique and affecting stories intercut with wonderful visual imagery, and insight.
5 - And finally... ESPN Films "30 for 30: Soccer Stories" (2014), released just a couple of weeks ago, after a Tribeca premiere, just in time for the 2014 FIFA World Cup. It includes a mix of standalone feature-length and 30-minute-long documentary films from an award-winning group of filmmakers, telling compelling narratives from around the international soccer landscape. In addition, a collection of 10 vignettes about Brazil's rich culture are featured throughout.
Here's a breakdown of what is included, courtesy of ESPN Films, followed by a trailer...
Two feature-length films:
"Hillsborough" Directed by Daniel Gordon
25 years ago, on April 15, 1989, the worst disaster in British football history occurred in an overcrowded stadium in Sheffield, England, 150 miles north of London. 3,000 fans flocked through the turnstiles to head to the area reserved for standing, despite a capacity of less than half of that. The result was a "human crush" that killed 96 people and injured 766. Prior to the disaster at Hillsborough, British football was known for the grime of its stadiums, hooligan fans and inadequate facilities, but great change came after the Hillsborough disaster. What emerged is now known as the most rich and powerful soccer league in the world, the English Premier League.
"White, Blue and White" Directed by Camilo Antolini; Produced by Juan José Campanella
Although a large number of Argentinian players have found football success around the world, few have made a name for themselves in England's top league. One notable exception is Ossie Ardiles. Fresh off Argentina's victory in the 1978 World Cup, Ardiles and his compatriot, Ricky Villa, joined Tottenham Hotspur later that year, when the notion of overseas players was still new to the English league. Helping lead Spurs to victory in the 1981 FA Cup, the Argentinian stars became cult heroes in England. But on April 2, 1982, everything radically changed as Argentinian troops descended on the British-ruled Falkland Islands, asserting rightful sovereignty. A conflicted Ardiles returned to Buenos Aires two days later, his bright future with Spurs suddenly in question.
Six 30-minute films:
"Garrincha: Crippled Angel" Directed by Marcos Horacio Azevedo
In Brazil, Pelé is "The King." But his teammate, Mané Garrincha, is also remembered as the one of the best soccer players of all time. In a country where the sport grants its protagonists such royal deference, Garrincha is the jester- an entertainer who amused crowds and turned soccer into an irresistible spectacle, all while helping Brazil capture two World Cups. This, despite his legs being so bent that early in his career doctors deemed him unfit to play professionally. Match after match, he proved them wrong. But his unpredictable moves were of little assistance after his playing career came to an end. Abandoned by the soccer establishment, Garrincha died a victim of alcoholism in 1983. But his fans did not forget him. His body was brought to a cemetery, in the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro. Garrincha's relatives had to borrow a grave, which turned out to be too small for his coffin. Thousands of people flooded the tiny burial ground, much more than the place could accommodate. After 49 years of a brilliant career and tumultuous life, the man who turned soccer into a "Beautiful Game" was memorably laid to rest. His legend lives on.
"Barbosa - The Man Who Made All of Brazil Cry" Directed by Loch Phillipps; Executive Producers: Jonathan Hock & Roger Bennett
In 1949, Goalkeeper Moacir Barbosa and his Brazilian national team are on top of the world, having just won the South American championship by a score of 7-0. Barbosa is one of the heroes, widely considered one of the world's best goalkeepers. But everything changed during the 1950 World Cup, played for the first time in Brazil. Before the final game against neighbor and rival Uruguay, the Brazilian Football Confederation was so confident of victory it had made 22 gold medals with the names of their players imprinted on them. With 11 minutes left, Uruguay shocked the estimated crowd of 200,000 at Marcana and scored the winning goal - a goal that is still considered to be the greatest sporting tragedy to befall Brazil. The blame was mostly pinned on Barbosa for being out of position on his goal line, tantamount to Bill Buckner letting a baseball roll between his legs. The country went into a deep mourning, fans committed suicide, and Barbosa was nationally blacklisted. Barbosa was considered cursed and he never played in another World Cup. He rotted away, practically penniless and alone. On July 13th, the 2014 World Cup Final will again take place at the Maracana, giving the Brazilian team the chance to write a new ending into Brazilian folklore.
"Ceasefire Massacre" Directed by Alex Gibney and Trevor Bunim
New Jersey, June 18, 1994. Giants Stadium is awash with green as Irish soccer fans arrive to watch Ireland's opening World Cup match against the mighty Italy. The sense of optimism is infectious. The Celtic Tiger is in its infancy, Bill Clinton's decision to grant a visa to Irish Republican leader Gerry Adams has propelled the peace process forward and Jack Charlton's team are walking onto the pitch before 75,000 fervent spectators made up of Irish, Italians and Americans of Irish and Italian decent. Amongst the fans is Irish Prime Minister Albert Reynolds who is sitting with members of an American group who've been working behind-the-scenes to end the conflict in Northern Ireland. The electrifying mood is shared by the supporters watching the match in the Heights Bar, a tiny pub in the Northern Irish village of Loughin Island, 24 miles south of Belfast. At the half, the Irish are remarkably ahead 1-0. Shortly after the second half begins, two masked gunmen belonging to a Protestant terror group burst into the Heights Bar. Thirty rounds are fired and six innocent men watching a soccer match were killed. Ceasefire Massacre will reveal how the juxtaposition of the jubilation felt inside Giants Stadium against the horrors of what happened in the Heights Bar, encapsulated the mood of the time. After 25-years of conflict, Ireland and her people longed for peace and prosperity but the brutalities of the violence in the North were never far from the surface. The gunning down of innocent men as they watched a soccer match marked both a low-point and a turning-point in the Northern Ireland conflict; one that would ultimately contribute to the paramilitaries on both sides calling ceasefires just weeks later.
"The Opposition" Directed by Ezra Edelman
In the wake of the 1973 military coup in Chile, American-backed dictator Augusto Pinochet transformed Santiago's National Stadium into a concentration camp where political opponents were tortured and assassinated. Only months later, that same stadium was scheduled to host a decisive World Cup qualifier between Chile and the Soviet Union. Despite protests, FIFA's own investigation, and the Soviet's eventual boycott, the Chilean team still played the game as planned, qualifying for the 1974 World Cup on a goal scored against no one.
"Mysteries of The Jules Rimet Trophy" Directed by Brett Ratner
Inspired by Nike, the Greek goddess of victory, the Jules Rimet Trophy was awarded to the nation that won FIFA's World Cup and was among the most coveted prizes in all of sports. It is also the sports prize shrouded in the most intrigue - with the whereabouts of the original trophy unknown to this day. This film focuses on the great prize's first brush with crime - a Nazi plan to steal the Rimet Trophy from Italy during World War II. The story unfolds like a great caper film, where our hero, Ottorino Barassi, a mild-mannered Italian soccer official, attempts to protect a valued treasure.
"Maradona '86" Directed by Sam Blair; Executive Produced by John Battsek
In the 1986 World Cup, Maradona redefined what is possible for one man to accomplish on the soccer field. Already a figure of notoriety, but with one failed World Cup behind him, Maradona took possession of the international stage in Mexico, the spotlight rarely drifting from him as he wrote an indelible history with his feet and, of course, with a hand from God. Delivered with passion and intelligence, Maradona '86 is a fascinating, evocative and operatic portrait of Maradona, revealing his inner complexity and contradictions while basking in the joy and passion of his performance on the pitch as he wrote his name on soccer history forever.
Here's a look at Garrincha: Crippled Angel: