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A first-time filmmaker tells the story of former enemies who forged a bond playing amputee soccer in war-torn Liberia.
I sat on a makeshift wooden bench on the sidelines of the soccer field, my camera bag slung over my shoulder. Player number 14–his red-and-white Liberia jersey bright in the sunlight–kicked the ball to a teammate across the stretch of sand they used as a field.
It was like any other soccer game, except the players on this field were all amputees.
Men on crutches shooting goals. Goalies blocking shots with one arm. I’d flown to Liberia to make a documentary about the Lone Stars, Liberia’s amputee soccer team. My first attempt at a feature-length film. I’d quit my job to do this project.
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But after three days of sitting on the edge of the field, I wondered if I’d made a huge mistake. No one on the team seemed interested in talking. They paid zero attention to me or to Evan, my friend and collaborator. We might as well have been invisible.
“Maybe they’re just focused on the game,” Evan suggested. So we waited for a pause in the action, then tried to break the ice. We explained how we’d read about the Lone Stars, how we wanted to show the world what they do. “Your story is inspiring,” I said.
The players stared at us, their expressions giving nothing away, then crutched back onto the field. My heart sank. We’d dropped everything to be here, and these guys wanted nothing to do with us. Why?
Had I really thought I could do this? I hadn’t trained to be a filmmaker. I was a philosophy major in college. But film was my passion. I’d shot a few short pieces and posted them on YouTube, and after graduation I found work at a small production studio in New York.
Meanwhile, friends who’d studied film had big-time connections and were already making movies of their own. I wanted to do that too. But what would my movies be about? I wanted to do something meaningful.
Then I read a book about soccer in Africa and came across a passage about the Lone Stars, a group of men maimed in Liberia’s bloody civil war. Improbably, they’d come together and formed a team. They’d competed in the biennial Cup of African Nations Amputee Football championship and in 2009 they’d won.
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I wondered how they could play at that level on crutches. I poked around online to find out more.
The members of the Lone Stars had vastly different histories, all of them violent. Some were ex-soldiers who had lost their limbs in combat. Others were innocent victims caught in the crossfire. Society shunned them because of their injuries. Now they were champions. Incredible.
How had they moved beyond the violence and hatred of their past? How had they avoided the trap of bitterness and become teammates? God was moving in these men’s lives in a way that was truly inspiring. It was a story the world needed to hear.
“We have to do it,” Evan said when I mentioned making a documentary.
“But where are we going to get the money?” I asked. We’d have to quit our jobs, borrow cameras and somehow scrape the money together to cover initial costs, like our plane tickets. If the project picked up steam, maybe we could do a fund-raising campaign. We’d have to get the team’s cooperation.
The more I thought about the Lone Stars, the more I wanted to tell their story. Evan and I cashed in our savings, maxed out our credit cards and arrived in Monrovia, Liberia’s capital, full of hope. And naïveté, as it turned out.
After three days watching on the sidelines, I had to face facts: This had all been one giant mistake. The Lone Stars weren’t interested. I’d have to crawl home empty-handed. I felt like such a failure.