“When I heard that somebody in Kenya was creating a soap opera to promote social change, I thought it was a great story,” Patrick Reed said. “I knew that there would be interesting characters to follow, and that it would also be a chance to make an African movie with a feel-good ending.”
Which is not to say that Reed’s new documentary, The Team, which makes its Canadian premiere at this year’s Hot Docs festival, attempts to put a happy face on a country racked with poverty and sectarian violence. Rather, by telling the stories of the actors hired to participate in a locally made television series about a co-ed, multi-ethnic soccer team, The Team shows the gaps between real young Kenyans and the characters they play on television — roles that have of course been designed to promote a sense of tolerance and understanding.
“We saw this kind of paradox all the time” says Reed, who returned to Kenya four times over the course of a year to chart the progress of the series’ first season shoot. “You’d see the actors on set, doing a scene that basically boils down to ‘why can’t we all just get along,’ and then in between takes, they’ll be arguing with each other about who is to blame, about who can’t be trusted.”
At the same time, The Team doesn’t inscribe a sense of helplessness about its subjects and their lives. Reed, who previously made the documentary Triage about former Doctors Without Borders head James Orbinski, says he was trying to avoid certain journalistic cliches about the continent.
“I’m very proud of having worked on Shake Hands With the Devil (Peter Raymont’s award-winning documentary about Romeo Dallaire) and Triage, but you can’t help doubting yourself and wondering if these sorts of stories, where the hero is an outsider, feeds into the stereotypes of Africans as passive victims waiting to be saved — often from themselves,” Reed said. “One of the things that really attracted me to The Team is that (the people in the film) aren’t waiting around for anybody to save them — they’re playing starring roles.”