Wednesday 11 November 2015

Gentlemen and players: "Warriors"

Perhaps it's the irresistible spectacle of the 20:20 format, but the sport of cricket, for so long entirely absent from our screens, has of late become a source of fascination for filmmakers looking for ways of uniting disparate audiences. There it is in the background of Bollywood movies, a modest proposal for channelling the fractious division of India and Pakistan into something like healthy competition; there it is again in a crusader doc like the past summer's Death of a Gentleman as a truly global concern, maligned by the parochialism of its administrators. Barney Douglas's new doc Warriors proves rather more of a celebration: this is the feelgood story of a team of underdogs - sourced from Kenya's Maasai tribe - who travel from the arid plains of their homeland (as good a batting strip as any) to Lord's, the home of cricket, to participate in the annual Last Man Stands tournament for amateur teams.

For two-thirds of its duration, however, Douglas's interest lies in a different kind of match-up: that between tradition and modernity. While the batsmen and bowlers of the Maasai Cricket Warriors hone their actions under the watchful eye of their female coach, South African Aliya Bauer, the elders - who donated the land for this wicket - sit around the boundary, discussing the matter of female genital mutilation. As one greyhair grumps, "You cannot touch a woman today. If you do, she says she has human rights." Gradually, it becomes clear that Warriors, like last year's excellent Next Goal Wins, is using its featured sport - with its laws and rules, its inbuilt sense of fair play - as a means of exploring a community, and its attitudes. Crucially, Douglas allows his subjects to represent themselves in their own words: the old men, trotting out wisdoms that were surely handed down to them; young girls, expressing a fear of going under unsterilised knives, or being married off for a bag of sugar; and the men out in the middle, who've travelled a little, and want to share another way of doing things. (What the film shows us is the process whereby sportsmen can become ambassadors.) 

Enough goodwill is banked in these Kenyan scenes for Douglas to get away with framing the team's eventual London trip principally as tourism - shots of the players, clad in full ceremonial dress, in the Long Room and outside Buckingham Palace - with the occasional sporting highlights package thrown in: here, by reducing individual matches to easily grasped wins and losses, you sense the filmmaker understandably angling for a bigger audience than seasoned TMS listeners. Still, the whole remains lively, buoying viewing: expressive animated inserts illustrate how the Maasai's skill with shield and spear has evolved into some facility with bat and ball, while Ben Wilkins' sunkissed cinematography points up the great natural beauty of the African landscape. Nothing, however, is quite as stirring as the sight of the spirit of cricket at large - allowing a dialogue to be conducted and concluded to everyone's satisfaction, first between generations, then with the world.

Warriors opens in selected cinemas from Friday. 

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