Photos and Video Courtesy: Nisha Ligon
“Spread the love and let’s see how many more players’ dreams can come true. The talent is there. We just need people to see it.”
Meet the Twiga Stars, Tanzania’s soccer sisters. Two years ago, Tanzanian football legend Charles Boniface Mkwasa selected 30 young and talented female footballers to form the national women’s football team and prepare for the West African Football tournament – and London-based filmmaker Nisha Ligon was there to bring us along. It all started when she decided to travel abroad in college…
“I wanted to go to East Africa and it was the only pre-approved program on Yale’s list. I was too lazy to try and get anywhere else approved, so I went there – and loved it. I started playing football (soccer) with the guys on campus, then one of them told me he’d seen some girls playing near his mom’s house. He wrote me detailed directions of the 2 buses I needed to take, then how to walk to get there. That’s how I first met the female footballers of Dar. Their story just stuck in my mind, and a year and a half later I was back to film them.”
The result was Ligon’s first feature-length documentary, in which we follow the team’s intensive training, the heartbreak of team cuts, and the tragedies of life that strike along the way. No matter what the Twiga Stars are facing, one thing is always clear: the undying love each one of these women has for The Beautiful Game.
“Growing up I took it for granted that I got to play sports all the time, and my family, community and school supported me in it completely. In Africa, women who play sports (especially football, which is seen as a men’s sport) are often ostracized. Some of the players I know had to run away from home to be able to play. For them it’s a battle everyday, both to be accepted, and to find ways to support themselves and survive as a female athlete. Man those girls work hard, and for nothing in return but the pleasure of getting to play the sport they love and represent their country.”
While the players are incredible, their loyal filmmaker is no slouch either. Every moment of this film is Nisha’s – she filmed, edited, narrated, translated, and subtitled the whole thing herself!I caught up with Nisha yesterday – stay tuned for great things to come!
So what’s next for the Twiga Stars?
They’re back where they were when I was filming the documentary two years ago: qualifiers for the African Women’s Cup. But this time – they’re smoking the competition. They’ve also got lots more support from back home: sponsorship from Precision Air, tons of news coverage in the Tanzanian press, and even some matches played in the 60,000 seater national stadium. There are also Twiga Stars playing abroad now. Team captain Sophia Mwasikili is playing at Luleburgaz in Turkey, and two other players have received invites for trails in Sweden. Sophia got her team in Turkey through an agent who contacted me on YouTube after seeing a video of her I’d posted there. Spread the love and let’s see how many more players’ dreams can come true. The talent is there. We just need people to see it.
So what’s next for YOU, Nisha?
I’m filming short education videos for the Virtual School. I’ve gone from one film in two years, to two videos a day. The production values aren’t as high, but the impact will hopefully be enormous. There are a couple of stories I’m starting to film and follow for documentaries in the future. I’ve realized that the docs I love most are ones where someone starts filming something lightly, then allows the story to unfold over years, or even decades, and then they finally turns it into a film. I’m gonna make one of those.
Write us a haiku.
Women playin’ ball
Breaking down all barriers
Come on you Twiga Stars!
What’s your vice?
I’m a meddler. I can’t not get involved. I think it worked out in Twiga Stars, since a lot of the film’s best one-liners are things the players say to me as a friend, “Hey Nisha…” this or that. I’m honest about the fact that the film is from my point of view, and I meddle from behind the camera.
But there’s this great moment in Jennifer Arnold’s excellent documentary “A Small Act,” where these kids in Kenya are trying to get back their test results by mobile phone, but no one in the village has enough credit or battery on their mobiles. They have to wait for ages and the tension just kills you. If I were filming, I would never have gotten that great moment, since I’d have just handed them my phone.
Tell us something only your mother knows about.
She’s sitting behind me right now (on a rare visit to London). Let me ask her. She says I used to cry when dogs touched me. Oh, and she and I walked 19,488 steps today.
A one-hour cut of the film is available here – I hope you’ll watch it, fall in love with Twiga, and help us spread the word about the talent in Tanzania!