This column did a “Memo to self” the other day. It had one word: “Uplifting.”
Other recent memos to self including, “Do not open that bottle of Cuban rum” and “Dance!” I’m happy to report, self-advice taken, but as I write this the long weekend is coming and this column might be found demolished on the floor after doing the Macarena following a few tots of rum.
And in the matter of uplift, yes let us turn away from scabrous dramas and sour comedies. I present to you a short list of inspirative stories. For sports fans and others.
This is Football (Amazon Prime Video) is a spectacularly good documentary series about soccer as a worldwide phenomenon. It’s celebratory – nothing about FIFA scandals here – but substantial storytelling, and beautifully made, a feast for the eyes. It’s less about soccer, you realize after a few episodes, than it is about the human capacity to heal, to strive, to triumph and to create a community across religious and political barriers. And it’s not all about superstars – episode titles include Belief, Chance, Wonder and Redemption and they are to be taken seriously as signifying meaning beyond goals and victories.
The first episode, Redemption, is an extraordinary story about how soccer became the vehicle for healing in Rwanda, after the horrific Rwandan ethnic genocide in 1994. This hour, made by James Erskine, includes an interview with Rwandan president Paul Kagame, who explains the conscious strategy of using soccer to unite, because it was the one arena in which there was no bitterness or hate. Women’s soccer leagues were formed to help young women cope with the trauma of what they had experienced. And none of this is presented as pie-in-the-sky thinking. It worked. The startling episode is built around a group of locals who are perhaps the most fervent long-distance supporters of Liverpool FC in the world.
The second hour, Belief, is equally fascinating, as it cleverly blends the stories of the rise of women’s soccer in the United States and Japan. In what is an illuminating slice of anthropology, it has interviews with Brandi Chastain, who became an icon of soccer in the United States, Hope Solo, and many others. Their stories are matched with that of Homare Sawa, the legendary captain of Japan’s women’s team and the younger players who won the Women’s World Cup in 2011. Rich in anecdotes, archival footage and personal stories, this hour is truly inspiring and sports journalism at its best.
Andy Murray: Resurfacing (Amazon Prime Video) is about Murray, the man and tennis player, and about his difficult comeback from several career-threatening injuries and operations. It’s inspiring in a plain-spoken way, whether you know much about tennis, or not. There is Murray the misanthrope and Murray the dryly cynical Scot. What emerges, though, is not the picture of a saintly figure or even a sublimely skilled player. What comes across instead is a man who worked hard, for whom tennis has been an escape, not an obsession, and for whom those injuries and setbacks were just another part of the toil. Here’s a guy who, as a kid, survived the Dunblane school massacre in his hometown in Scotland and who has been written off, over and over again.
Detectorists (Acorn TV) is fiction but features people who might argue about what they do being a sport or a hobby. The British series – winner of several BAFTA Awards – was created, written and directed by Mackenzie Crook (The Office, Pirates of the Caribbean) and stars Crook with Toby Jones. They are members of the Danebury Metal Detecting Club and wander the local area with their metal detectors looking for hidden treasure but, really, just amiably hiding from the cruelties of life.
It’s been called a classic slice-of-life comedy but that hardly does it justice. These two lovable losers are, in truth, everyman figures. Around them there is a smattering of eccentric, oddball figures from the local town, people who would never of course consider themselves odd. The pair’s relationships with women are warm, funny and intriguing. Beautifully written, acted, and with a consoling rhythm all its own, the series reminds you that the small joys of life have a profound impact on everything. It’s a real hidden gem and by the way, Acorn has a free 30-day trial in Canada right now.
At a time when it is near-impossible to literally embrace others outside immediate family, embrace these stories and be uplifted. Dance too, if you like, but careful with the strong liquor. If this column disappears for a while, you’ll know what happened.
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