At their best, high school sports can be a uniquely unifying thing. Sure, there can be a lot of overzealous jock nonsense, but there’s something about the endlessly repeating cycle of a town’s kids running through the same games, the same rivalries and victories (and defeats) that sees a lot of disparate people come together.
“One Team: The Story of The Lewiston High School Blue Devils,” the new sports documentary about the 2015 state champion Lewiston High School boys’ soccer team is, on one level, a typical feel-good sports movie about a great team and its dedicated longtime coach. On another level, however, it speaks to the spirit of the city of Lewiston, and some of the issues that have shaped it.
The Blue Devils were dominant in 2015, outscoring their opponents by more than a hundred goals on the season, and being ranked 22nd in the country by the National Soccer Coaches Association of America. When they won the title, beating Scarborough 1-0 at Portland’s Fitzpatrick Stadium, it marked a triumph for the players and their coach Mike McGraw, his first in 33 years of heading the Blue Devils. But, as “One Team” filmmaker Ian Clough puts it, “It is a little bit more than the sports story.”
Clough, a Lewiston native, graduated from LHS in 2001, a year before then-Lewiston mayor Laurier T. Raymond published a controversial “open letter” stating his wish that the leaders of Lewiston’s growing community of Somali immigrants would tell other Somali’s to stay away, citing the supposed burdens being placed on the city’s social services.
That letter brought a lot of unwanted infamy Lewiston’s way, with protests against the perceived xenophobia of the statement, and others (including one by a white supremacist group) supporting it. Turning the national spotlight on Lewiston, it even inspired filmmaker Ziad Hamzeh’s award-winning 2003 documentary “The Letter.”
When the Blue Devils won the state soccer championship some dozen years later, the team was made up of students from six different countries, including eight who were born in Somalia. Some 4,500 people turned out to watch them win LHS’ first-ever state title. For Clough, the boys’ victorious season as depicted in “One Team” says a lot about how far Lewiston’s come.
Says Clough, “The film explored a lot of Lewiston over the last 15 years. We’ve seen a real change in its makeup, obviously going from this pretty white demographic to having this immigrant population come in. From afar, you might have certain stereotypes about Lewiston. The story of this film represents the huge effect, not only on the city, but on people on the outside looking in.”
Clough, who played for coach McGraw while a student at LHS, emphasizes the film is first and foremost about the players, their coach, and their accomplishments on the soccer field. He is effusive about how the the team’s win represents a lot more to the people of Lewiston. “This was a success story not just on the field. It goes to show the power of sport, and specifically soccer. We as Americans don’t really realize how big a deal soccer is in the rest of the world. For these kids, coming to a place that’s different from everything they know – they have family, and they have soccer. In the film, they talk about Mike a lot, what he means to the sport and what he means to them. It’s very much also about the journey these kids have been on, on and off the field.”
The film, which is still being tuned up as of this writing, will have the world premiere of what Clough’s calling “the director’s cut” on Friday as part of the Lewiston-based Emerge Film Festival (emergefilmfestival.org). Clough will be there, along with some of the players and McGraw, taking one final, well-deserved victory lap as their inspirational sports (and life) story unspools for another no-doubt appreciative crowd, from Lewiston and elsewhere.
Details on “One Team” and the team can be found at the film’s website. For tickets, directions, and showtimes to The Emerge Film Festival (which I urge everyone to attend), check out emergefilmfestival.org.
Thursday: “Vita Activa: The Spirit of Hanna Arendt.” This documentary explores the life and legacy of German-Jewish philosopher Arendt, whose famous concept of “the banality of evil” is something she knew about first-hand, having lived through the rise of the Nazi’s and even having had a relationship with fellow philosopher and future Nazi fan Martin Heidegger.
Friday: “Francofonia.” Alexander Sokurov follows up his mesmerizing, one-take tour of Russia’s Hermitage museum, “Russian Ark,” with this similar cinematic blend of history, art, and character. Following the two real-life men, real-life characters Jacques Jaujard and Count Franziskus Wolff-Metternich, tasked by the Nazi’s with cataloging the treasures of Paris Louvre, the film is another visually stunning meditation on art and life.