Columnist Liz Smith made a remark this week: "Perversity thy name is Hollywood." She was referring to the possibility that the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences (of which I am a long-time member) probably would not nominate Woody Allen's delightful new film, Midnight in Paris or the last Harry Potter film in its candidates for Best Picture Oscar. Well, if I have anything to do about it (and I do), they will. But I have another blaring example of the perversity of the movie industry to which I have devoted half-a-century of my life. This week I went to a screening of a film which is struggling to get a major distributor to take it on and arrange for it to be seen by the mainstream American film audience. And, folks, it was absolutely the most wonderful, engaging and enjoyable movie I have seen this year!
I knew nothing about the movie when I attended the screening, but at the end I found myself crying and cheering and turning to the people in the room to enthuse about what we had just viewed. It's called Will and was produced by (among many others) two young people, Ellen Perry and Zack Anderson, who also co-wrote it and saw Ellen Perry direct it. It's a family film with a soccer theme, and you would think that with the red-hot soccer excitement throughout the world last week for the women's soccer finals, astute businessmen would grab such a heartwarming movie with this theme... but thusfar none has stepped up. We must change that.
Briefly, it is about an eleven year old boy, Will Brennan, in an orphanage in England, whose life is turned upside-down when his long-absent father reappears with tickets to the 2005 Champions League Soccer Final in Istanbul. Fate intervenes and his father dies suddenly, impossibly, so Will (a passionate and knowledgeable soccer fan, especially of the Liverpool F.C.) runs away to head for Turkey, searching for meaning in a world which seems to have abandoned him. Well-known actors Bob Hoskins (playing his father's friend) and Alice Krige (as Mother Superior) play prominent roles in it, but young Perry Eggleton is astonishing and enchanting as the tousled blond kid who refuses to give up his quest. This heartfelt underdog story sees him hiding on a truck to Paris, where he unexpectedly teams up with a former Bosnian soccer star, Alek, who abandoned the game after a tragic event during his country's civil war. Despite his initial reluctance, Alek finds himself inspired by Will's heroic journey and together this unlikely pair of underdogs make a remarkable trek across Europe to the match in Turkey, while the world is searching for this young soccer-enthused runaway. (I'm not a big soccer fan, so I didn't realize that the cameo by Liverpool Football Club Manager Kenny Daglish was a big deal, and superstar footballers Jamie Carragher and Steven Gerrard also appear.)
Battling fate and and fortune in a desperate bid to prove to themselves that it's never too late to dream, they accomplish the impossible. And I left the screening room with tears in my eyes. I later Googled the match, and found that the match at Ataturk Stadium saw Liverpool come from three goals down to beat A.C. Milan on penalties. Emotional, exotic, and watched by hundreds of millions worldwide... just as we all watched the U.S. and Japanese women's teams battle it out in an epic struggle just a week ago. I am now a soccer fan. (Note: the anthem of the Liverpool FC is "You'll Never Walk Alone"; how appropriate for this moving movie with its message to never give up, never quit on your family and friends, and always strive to be your best. Not a bad message for a movie and life.)
After the screening I spoke with the filmmakers, Ellen and Zack, and learned that this film, which looks like a $50-million family adventure, was actually made for about one-tenth of that budget. A smart and strategic Turkish investor at GaletaFilms realized that it would be a fine showcase for that dynamic country and provided the bulk of the financing. A grueling 40-day shoot, of six-day weeks with strict British children's hours, I can only imagine how exhausted the cast and crew must have been. Ellen Perry is a huge talent; this is her first dramatic feature to direct, but I now have seen her two well-received documentaries, including The Fall of Fujimori, which opened at Sundance and was nominated for an Emmy and also Best Screenplay by the Writer's Guild (with Zack also receiving a nomination as co-writer), and her first documentary, the amazing Great Wall Across the Yangzte.
Five years later, the picture Will is done... and much to my surprise and chagrin, the big film companies are not fighting for the right to release it to an emotionally starved, waiting world audience! Hey, Sony... Universal... Paramount... MGM... and especially you, Disney, here is a heartwarming, commercial and absolutely terrific film which will win plaudits and viewers worldwide. It will certainly be on my Academy list of best pictures of the year. I can't wait to see it again... and I bet that those two young daughters (and huge soccer fans) in the White House will feel the same way.
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