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THE PROCESS OF MAKING THE FILM
How did the film come about?
I had enrolled in a Master of Arts (photography) and was looking for a project that would allow me to challenge gender roles and stereotypes through image making. When I came across a poster for the Mt Alexander Falcons football club, calling on ‘women and gender diverse people’ to come and try football, I realised I’d never seen the word ‘gender diverse’ so publicly advertised in a sporting context. I would never have turned up to a football club to try AFL without that word being present. This is why it’s so important to explicitly welcome people through language. So many clubs use the word ‘inclusive’ without actually knowing what it means to be inclusive, or having the structures in place to make that inclusion active. When I turned up to the first come and try day, the feeling of being in that space and how different the club felt to be part of meant that I wanted to train as well as document the foundation of the club. This posed a problem which was resolved by attaching camera’s to my body so I could do both at the same time. When the club was rejected from the league in the first few weeks of participating, I knew there was a bigger story there, and I just kept documenting as the story unfolded.
What does the title mean?
‘Equal the contest’ is actually a footy term that can be found in the Glossary of Australian Rules Football on Wikipedia. It states ‘Equal the contest: when a player is outnumbered by opponents, such as in a marking or ground ball contest, but manages to bring the ball to ground, hold up play, or maintain possession until teammates are able to arrive.’ I saw this as a great analogy for what was happening at the Falcons, where the executive committee were trying to hold up the AFL decision making until they’d rallied enough community support.
What was the filmmaking process like?
It was extremely challenging for a number of reasons:
Learning to play: I was not only trying to document a very fast paced contact sport, I was learning to play it at the same time. I didn’t know the first rule in AFL, so my brain was constantly overloaded, trying to learn the basics of football – things most people learn from a very young age – and get those learnings into my body as second nature at the same time as documenting it. I was often running on to the field not having warmed up properly as I was busy catching interviews before training and matches, and trying to juggle the role of director, cinematographer, sound recordist and football player at the same time
Being visible and vulnerable: In the beginning I had no intention of being in the film. In my mind, this was the story of a stand alone club being built from scratch. I began recording video diaries just to help me remember what I was feeling so I could write a better thesis for my Masters. Early in the journey, one of my Masters supervisors was watching some of the footage I’d captured from my body as I was training and she said “who is the body?” I argued it didn’t matter who the body is, what was important was what the body was seeing and experiencing. She argued it absolutely mattered who the body was. Needless to say, I lost the argument, which forced me to start thinking about my own lived experience in sport and exclusion. Why would anyone care about who the body was? What was my own story? I dug into my history and suddenly realised the story that was unfolding at the Falcons – the rejection from sport – was very familiar to me. This interrogation of rejection was deeply upsetting and I had to repeatedly think about how my experiences of exclusion from sport as a child because of my gender impacted my life. It turned out I could pin point those experiences as having a fundamentally negative effect on my life and I could see how differently my confidence, mental and physical health could have been in my teenage years had I been able to participate in sport ongoing, and also be celebrated for being myself. I experienced a lot of grief during the filming realising this and having to continue to go over it in the filmmaking process to make sure I was able to convey this in a way that would resonate with an audience and not alienate the audience. On top of that, I was making the film at a time when there was huge global debate emerging around trans and gender diverse inclusion in sport. Much of this was negative and extremely hurtful and I felt a lot of fear about being visible. Interestingly, it was knowing how supported I was at the Falcons and how surrounded by community I had become that gave me the strength to keep pushing forward and finishing the film. My teammate and associate producer Alex Kelly played a massive role in ensuring this film got finished. Her unwavering belief in what I was doing, her advise and her constant love and support helped me back on my feet every time I felt like I couldn’t go on – and there were MANY of those moments!
Not having a budget: this is expanded upon below, but needless to say, the making of the film was infinitely harder due to the difficulty faced by not having a budget. I was working insane hours making the film on top of my full time job to make ends meet and ended up doing roles I really didn’t feel I was best suited to doing – both from a skill perspective and also a mental health perspective – like editing. At that stage I really needed to step away from the film and allow someone else to edit the film however a series of events meant I had to take that on myself and it was an extremely challenging time.
There is an emotional moment where you say “I’ll never be good… but these kids get a chance”. What were you meaning by this?
This moment has nothing to do with being ‘good’ and I really wish I’d instead said “I’ll never know my potential”. I really wish the focus on sport was more on someone reaching their potential, or even just improving, than some arbitrary notion of what ‘good’ is. When we celebrate participation, it opens players up to turning up with what they are able to contribute and decide how they want to push themselves (or not). For me, at 42, my joy comes from turning up each week, being surrounded by friends and having fun. I have no interest in trying to be the best on the field, because I don’t want to commit my life to the work that goes into being the best. It also suggests that being a good player holds more value than the act of participating. This doesn’t mean that I don’t want to give my best every time I turn up to training or the game, but what I’m able to give may vary from week to week and that should be ok if our priority is on players health and wellbeing over winning. I’m curious about my potential within the limitation of my age and life circumstances, but my priority is about how football fits around my life and what I do outside of football is just as important for the benefits of my physical and mental health. In the moment of this video diary, my sadness comes from knowing that if I had have had access to learning this sport 30+ years ago, I would have different intentions for learning and I’d want to push my body in different ways. So I’ll never know how that would have played out. But I truly believe, that the striving should be less about ‘good’ and more about a curiosity to see what you are capable of, balancing that against other priorities in your life. And that decision should only lie with each individual player – no matter how much potential they exhibit, no coach, trainer, parent or peer has the right to push a player to participate in a way that doesn’t align with what they want or need personally. And this should be more than ok.
Why do we only see the games filmed from your body? Why not have filmed the games from the sidelines as well?
Not having a budget for production immediately created limitations. But through limitations we are often more creative. A few things happened at once here. I knew I didn’t have a budget to get a camera operator to film from the sidelines, so that was immediately out. A mentor I had early on in the project, Australian artist- Amos Gebhardt – suggested I watch Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait. Filmed with 17 cameras on the sideline of one match, all focused in tightly cropped shots of one player, Zidane, it’s a visceral account of the experience of being on the football field. Hearing his breathing particularly I wondered how I could provide the same experience of me learning to play football and give an audience access to that experience in the most visceral way. That’s where I came to exploring the idea of attaching Go Pro cameras to my head and chest. I self funded the purchase of 3 cameras and began experimenting at training sessions. Very quickly I realised this was perfect in another way. If I had have filmed from the sidelines, the audience would focus on the quality of the football being played. I knew that meant most people (especially men) would get hung up on our skill level, which was very low. In doing that, they’d miss the messages. So by filming from my body, we see less skill and instead focus on the quality of the experience in my body. This is an experience that really hasn’t been seen before in a film, so that meant the audience has an opportunity to bypass their brain’s ‘good / bad’ belief system and instead allow them to reframe their beliefs about what they think they know about football. It also gives people who know they’ll never have the inclination to step on to a football field get as close as possible to experiencing what that might be like.
What was the film’s budget?
Despite working in film production making short films for the past 17 years, this was my first feature film, so trying to attract funding was extremely difficult. I applied for countless grants with Australian film bodies, the arts and philanthropic funders but got rejected by all of them. I spent hours writing and delivering pitches to corporate organisations, only to have people tell me how amazing it sounded but they weren’t interested in providing any funding. I knew if I stopped and waited to try to attract funding I’d miss the story that was rapidly unfolding, so I continued to work full time, while making the film at night and on weekends. I was extremely grateful when a crowdfunding campaign I launched via Documentary Australia raised approximately $6000 and then Vic Health added a $10,000 donation to that campaign. $16000 is a minute amount to make a feature film, so I had to be extremely careful about what I spent that on. I knew that sound design and composition were two things I just didn’t have the skills to do myself, so it was a no brainer that the money would go there. I found some incredible people to work with in this space, including Lynne Butler (sound design) and Anisha Thomas (composition). I was also lucky enough to be able to licence a couple of kick arse Australian songs including Girl Sports by Teen Jesus and the Jean Teasers, Bec Goring’s Pay Gap and K5’s song Stretch Marks.
The rest was left for me to figure out myself – so I was on a massive learning curve for some of it – covering fund raising, the development and writing of the treatment, filming, sound recording, editing, colour grading, partnership development, accounting, impact campaign, website updates (original website set up by the wonderful Andrea Pribaz).
Of course all of this was done with the incredible advice, experience and support of my Producer Tony Coombs and Associate Producer Alex Kelly who worked on the production of the film pro bono and I feel extremely indebted to them. I had additional support from supervisors at Photography Studies College, staff at Documentary Australia, and mentors along the way Amos Gebhardt, Shannon Owen and Natasha Mumm-Hansen. Plus loads of people you can see in the ‘thank you’ section of the film’s credits!
MAKING CHANGE IN SPORT
What are some of the ways the Falcons makes playing football accessible?
Playing and training memberships – the Falcons has both playing and training memberships, so even if you think you don’t want to play a game, you can turn up to training without any pressure for it to be anything more than that. It’s a way for people to dip their toe in the water and get a sense of whether or not the sport is for them and also have access to the community. Through this membership structure, the Falcons have seen many people who never thought they’d play, actually take the field for the first time in the 2022 practice matches and inaugural 2023 season.
Being overt in support of the LGBTIQ community and particularly trans and gender diverse players – using the word ‘gender diverse’ in all documents and advertising as well as having clear guides like an inclusive language guide means the club has removed gendered language which allows everyone to feel like they belong.
Providing options for clothing – training tops and playing shorts are available for players in both ‘masc’ and ‘femme’ cuts, so players can choose what works for them and make sure they feel comfortable every time they turn up to training or a game.
Subsidised membership fees – if membership fees are a barrier to participation for anyone wanting to join the club, the Falcons covers membership fees for those people.
Paid child care at training and games – In 2023, the Falcons committed to providing a child care worker at one training session per week and the games. This meant that single parents, or parents who would otherwise need to stay home to look after the kids can come and participate, knowing their children are safe and cared for at the club.
Why should players be tackling safely? Isn’t the game more exciting when people are rough?
Playing safely doesn’t make the game less interesting. The excitement of the game is heightened by the skill and determination to play an extremely fast paced sport. This doesn’t need to be dangerous. There is growing research into the effects of head trauma with Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) and there has been a number of players who’s experiences have been made public who have had their lives changed forever, or died as a result. There is an extremely troubling list of US NFL players who have experienced the impact of CTE and had this diagnosed post-death. In Australia, the most publicised AFL players include Danny Frawley and Shane Tuck, whose experiences should cause anyone to condemn any unsafe behaviour on a football field that could lead to concussion. This is never worth any level of entertainment, at community or elite levels of sport. If we change what we value in sport, we change how we measure our enjoyment of what we are watching. Equally, if we reassess our beliefs around gender and deconstruct the gender binary, we free ourselves from the traditions of influence in the way men have played the sport since its inception and open up a new way to play. As women’s teams become more and more the ‘norm’ we have an opportunity to reshape how the game is played, but only if we reject all that comes with the gender binary.
How can men be better allies for women and gender diverse people in sport?
Watch – sponsors love eyeballs, so watching women’s sport on television, online or in person means the games become more appealing to sponsors, which creates more revenue to pay players and fund their requirements.
Speak up – when you hear people speaking negatively about women or gender diverse people in sport, speak up. This is best done with curiosity or positivity rather than through shaming or aggression. For example, if someone is saying ‘women’s sport is boring to watch’ you could simply say, ‘I love watching women’s sport’ and inviting mates around to watch a game on the weekend. Or if you hear a homophobic slur, you could say ‘We have a zero tolerance policy at our club for these kind of comments, would you mind changing your language so we can make sure everyone feels welcome?”
Volunteer – sports clubs rely on volunteers and historically these roles have been filled by women supporting men to play. Reach out to your local club and ask how you can volunteer for your local women’s team. Do this quietly, without looking for congratulations.
Help at home – If your partner, child or sibling wants to play sport, make sure you know which nights are training or games, so you can help pick up the load in ways that might make it otherwise difficult for that person to participate. Things like child-minding and preparing meals are some of the ways players at the Falcons have mentioned their partner supports them to play. They also note this is done by the men in their lives without expecting anything in return.
Donate – If you’re short on time but can spare a donation, this will go along way in helping clubs help players.
Wear – Visibility matters. Buy some merch from your favourite womens team – either community level or elite – and wear it proudly everywhere!
How can I support the Mt Alexander Falcons and players?
You can donate to the Falcons ‘player assistance fund’ which helps to subsidise travel, uniforms, registration, child care and medical bills.
How can I see the film and show it to my sporting club or organisation?
Sports clubs and organisations can request to host a private screening via our website for a small fee.