Street Leagues – Interview with Irish Director Daniel F. Holmes

“Street Leagues” follows the men and women of the Irish Homeless Street Leagues as they overcome homelessness and addiction through the power of sport. The film documents their journey to playing in the Homeless World Cup and features contributions from Colin Farrell who is an ambassador for the street leagues. We chatted to director Daniel F. Holmes about the film opening in Irish cinemas on September 25th


Watch the Street Leagues Trailer

How did you first get involved with the street leagues programme?
Executive producer Carly Hamilton originally approached producer Matthew Toman about doing a documentary on the Irish Homeless Street Leagues.  Matthew was still trying to find a director for the project when he asked me to shoot some footage at one of the practices.  At that point, I didn’t know anything about the Street Leagues or the Homeless World Cup and I found out later that Matthew was essentially testing me to see if I would have the same passion for the project that he did when he came onboard.  As I started to meet the players that day and get a better feel for what was going on, I immediately knew it was a story that I wanted to help share with a wider audience.  What Sean Kavanagh has created as founder of the Street Leagues is a stunning thing to witness.

Did you know what story you wanted to tell when you started filming?
There was a lot of discovery along the way.  Due to the nature of this being a self-funded project, everything came together really last minute so there was literally no time to prep before I was on that flight to Oslo to join the players for the Homeless World Cup.  I had to earn their trust quickly and it became clear pretty fast who was more comfortable being at the forefront of the doc and who wasn’t.  There was also always the balance to find between how much of the film are the stories of each individual player and how much of it is focused on their performance in the Homeless World Cup. Even though it may not have the same stakes of the real World Cup, I really wanted the games to mean something and to keep that part of the story engaging.  Over time, the full story gradually came into focus once I immersed myself deeper into the experience but nothing was pre-planned.

‘A ball can change a life’ is the motto behind the Street Leagues programme. Do you hope a film can help change attitudes about homeless people?
Yes and this was one of the big reasons why I was so passionate about taking on this project.  These players are some of the funniest, wittiest, most driven people I’ve ever met and have far better attitudes than most people I know who’ve never come close to facing the same challenges as them.  It’s clear from some of the reactions I’ve received that viewers aren’t expecting to be so impressed by them based on their preconceived notions & we’re very happy to help confront some of those attitudes.

Watching the journey of these men and women, from dark despair to picking themselves up to finding purpose is inspirational. How did you go about capturing this inspiration on camera?
Thankfully the players made that part easy because they were in such a state of pure joy throughout most of the Homeless World Cup.  I was a one-person crew in Oslo which had its challenges but it also allowed the players to be more comfortable and open up a lot more easily than if there was a bigger crew following them around impinging on their experience.  Being on my own granted an intimacy that made it more natural to capture that inspiration because I could blend in and none of the players felt any pressure to “perform” or be anyone but themselves.

How does it feel getting the film into cinemas?
It feels amazing and I’m grateful that we have this opportunity to help the Street Leagues even further by not only showcasing the work to a wider audience but also be in a position to donate 100% of our Bankhouse Productions box office profits to them.  Few communities have been hit as hard in the past 6 months as the homeless and the organisations who help them so we’re very happy that we have the chance to support in any way.  We were in talks to go on demand before the cinema opportunity presented itself and we will get back to that after the cinema release.  Our main goal is for as many people to be exposed to these stories as possible.

Colin Farrell features in the film and is a very big supporter, how did he get involved?
We have Carly Hamilton to thank for getting Colin involved.  She’s a long-time close friend of Colin’s and he’s helped out a lot in the past as both a patron of the Irish Homeless Street Leagues and an ambassador for the Homeless World Cup.  The other valuable thing Colin brings to the movie is an alternative example of someone who’s had challenges with addiction.  Colin discusses his own struggles and reminds us that this is an issue that can affect anybody.  Often it’s simply just a matter of resources that determines how easy or difficult it is for someone to get out of it.  We’re incredibly grateful to Colin for sharing that in the movie and to Carly for getting him involved. 

How difficult is it to capture the sport of football on screen?
Because these games are a 4-a-side format, they move so fast and at times it can be like trying to shoot human foosball.  The ball is just bouncing all over the pitch constantly.  It took a few days to really find the rhythm of how to capture these games in an interesting way and not miss anything without relying on big wide shots where everything would look the same. There were so many times where I’d freak out after a game because I wasn’t sure I got everything and then be so relieved in the editing room when I saw that it was all there!

Did you watch any other sport films for inspiration?
‘Hoop Dreams’ was really the main film on my mind both while filming and editing.  In the same way that ‘Hoop Dreams’ is about these aspiring basketball players but isn’t really about basketball, I wanted to make sure this film resonated with people who aren’t necessarily into football.  I remember seeing a VHS copy of ‘Hoop Dreams’ at my grandparents’ house in Belfast when I was a kid.  I’m not sure that my grandparents ever watched a full game of basketball in their lives but they still owned ‘Hoop Dreams’ and that always stuck with me. 

What were the main challenges for you while making the documentary?
Easily, the technical challenges that came with being a one-person crew.  Setting up lights, doing the sound, and being always on the move with multiple cameras could be stressful at times simply because of how fast everything was going and I didn’t want to miss anything.  While editing, it was always a challenge finding the right balance between all the different stories being told and making sure that the individual stories of the players could all be clear alongside the story of their journey in the Homeless World Cup.  It took a lot of trial-&-error to find out what that balance was going to be to make sure that everyone got their due and that it would all click.

The film has screened at festivals including the Dublin international film festival, how have cinema audiences reacted so far?
We’ve been over the moon with the audience reactions so far.  After our DIFF premiere, we had people coming up to us all night thanking us for the film, saying how emotional it made them, and asking how they could help the Irish Homeless Street Leagues.  Most importantly though, a lot of the talk has been about how much viewers just loved the players and how fun they were to get to know through the documentary.  It’s been gratifying after all this time spent working on the film for it to be resonating with people in the exact way we hoped. 

The film is accompanied by another short film ‘Warm For Winter’, how did this collaboration come about?
‘Warm for Winter’ is a short documentary that opened our DIFF premiere and it’s about Paddy Fryer who was responsible for the ‘Warm For Winter’ campaign where people left their winter coats on the Ha’Penny Bridge for the homeless.  We got along great with the filmmakers when we met at the premiere so when we were discussing the possibility of adding a short to the cinema release, it was a no-brainer to get them involved and provide yet another opportunity for viewers to shift their perspectives of the homeless.

What do you want audiences to take away from the film?
The main thing is for people to leave with a different understanding of the homeless and the challenges they face.  I also want them to feel the same joy as the players on their journey and to be able to look at their own challenges from a different perspective once the film is over.  When you see what these players have overcome and how brilliant their attitudes are in spite of it all, it’s impossible to not soak that up and look at your own life a bit differently.  I also really want people to realise that there is hope when it comes to addressing societal issues like homelessness and addiction.  So often, most airtime regarding these issues is given to how bad the problems are and we rarely hear about the people on the ground like Sean Kavanagh who are actually making phenomenal progress addressing these issues head-on in their communities. I hope that people can watch the film and feel more optimistic that solutions exist and that they can be a lot simpler than you would think.

STREET LEAGUES is at Irish cinemas from September 25th