SALT LAKE CITY (December 17, 2014) – IN FOOTBALL WE TRUST, a feature length documentary exploring the role football plays within the U.S. Polynesian community, will be making its world premiere at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival on January 23.
Despite overwhelming obstacles, Polynesians are 28 times more likely than any other ethnic group to make it in the NFL. Some refer to this phenomenon as a “calling” or a gift from God; others credit genetics, socio-cultural influences, or the push and pull of global sport capitalism. IN FOOTBALL WE TRUST examines how football for many Polynesian families is thought of as the ticket out of poverty and gang life. However, as the film explores, this is often an unrealistic expectation.
First time feature filmmakers from Salt Lake City, Tony Vainuku and Erika Cohn, were given unprecedented access to this tightly knit community. Over four years, these local directors were able to capture the high stakes world of recruiting, the nature of competitive athletics, the complexities of cultural identity, and the pressures of family responsibility.
“In my community, football has become such a large part of our cultural identity,” said director Vainuku, the first ever Tongan American filmmaker at Sundance. “As a teenager, I witnessed first-hand the family pressures put on my NFL-destined uncle, Joe Katoa, who eventually turned to drugs and violence and ended up in prison. His story left a very personal narrative of our culture’s American immigrant story emblazoned in my mind. Through our film, we follow these young players as they, like my uncle and so many before them, negotiate numerous pressures and influences – from family to religion to society – all while striving to preserve their traditions and ultimately create a better life.”
“I believe this film will help illuminate how our country’s infatuation with chasing the ‘American Dream’ can often leave people entrenched in the very conditions they are striving to overcome,” said producer and co-director Cohn.
The four players featured in this documentary are:
Harvey Langi – The second eldest of nine children and starting running back for Utah’s best high school team. He has scholarship offers to play football in nearly every top Division I school in the nation, but family expectations combined with early media attention ultimately lead to a crossroads.
Leva and Vita Bloomfield – These two brothers are struggling to live up to their father’s legacy, a former Brigham Young University running back who also founded the first Polynesian gang in Utah. Despite efforts to disaffiliate, the original family ties make it nearly impossible for the brothers to stay away from gang life.
Fihi Kaufusi – A two-way lineman who lives in his ultra-religious aunt’s crowded two-bedroom apartment with eight other children. Despite Fihi’s apparent talent, a terrible knee injury makes it difficult for Division I coaches to seriously consider his potential. As a result, he is faced with the decision of whether to give up the sport he loves in order to serve a religious mission.
In addition to the stories of these four men, the film includes footage and interviews with current and former Polynesian NFL players – Troy Polamalu, Haloti Ngata, Star Lotulelei and Vai Sikahema. The film follows the genealogy of Polynesian football; the “Utah pipeline;” and the profound ways their passion, loyalty and rituals have changed the game and the fan base of football.
“Over the years, Pacific Islanders have achieved tremendous notoriety through football,” said Sikahema, sports broadcaster and two-time NFL Pro Bowler. “Most young Polynesian men are raised with tremendous pressure from parents who dream of prosperity to make it in the NFL at the cost of everything else. That kind of pressure can have a detrimental affect on both individual families and the entire Polynesian community and this documentary does a great job of bringing these issues to light.”
- Documentary Provides an Inside Look into the Growing U.S. Polynesian Community
- Film Follows Four High School Athletes Struggling to Balance Cultural and Familial Expectations While Hoping Football Will Provide an Escape From Gang Violence and Poverty
- Interviews with Current and Former Polynesian NFL Players Provide Contextual Background Throughout the Film