By placing a fictional character in a soccer crowd, this short film takes a unique look at nationalism.
Not done with soccer movies yet? Want to try something a little different? Well, this short film may be just what you’re looking for. Filmmaker Oscar Hudson‘s latest work, Joy In People, puts a fictional character named Ben into numerous football crowds and observes the results. The film is a unique work of docufiction that examines the different reactions of the crowds to a naive outsider.
Watch it here:
Joy In People opens with a quote from political historian Benedict Anderson, laying out the short’s intentions to explore ideas of nationalism:
“A nation is an entirely imagined entity. Even the members of the smallest state will never know most of their fellow members. Yet in the mind of each lives the image of their sacred communion.”
The quote is from Anderson’s “Imagined Communities,” a book that explores the origins of nationalism. In which the concept of nations is described as “an imagined political community,” an idea the short explores via football fans.
We first meet the introverted Ben (Meredith Colchester) as his doctor encourages him to get out more. “There’s joy in other people,” she says, inspiring Ben to step out of his comfort zone and interact with the great wide world. Pacing around, he rehearses his greetings: “Hello I’m Ben, I’m one of the crowd.”
Ben spends the first three minutes wandering through busy streets, quietly observing the crowds. He rarely interacts with them in the opening, as he encounters groups ranging from religious gatherings to the hateful marches of the far-right EDL (English Defense League).
It’s after this that he appears to stumble upon a football game, as if by accident. The cheering of the crowd, the sense of community is incredibly enticing to Ben, as he stands just out of reach. After getting a taste of the joy described in the beginning, Ben arms himself with a Union Jack flag and enters a pub full of fans to see what he’s been missing out on.
It’s here that he encounters a positive sense of community. Colchester effortlessly embodies Ben’s naivety, allowing him to work his way into a group of strangers, one of whom teaches Ben the offside rule and the differences between flags. Ben begins to adapt to his surroundings, replicating the actions and mannerisms of those around him.
In their conversation, the stranger tells Ben when England’s next European Championship game is, mentioning that it takes place in France. This inspires our lead to jump on the next ferry and see what it’s all about first hand. “Not all crowds are equal” he repeats in voiceover, a telling hint of what’s to come.
Ben arrives in France dressed like a walking England flag, now fully assimilated into the crowd. Another exchange with a fan leads Ben to learn how long he has to wait until the next England game. “What am I gonna do for four days?” he asks, prompting a trip to Paris. He now looks bored with his previous observing routine, asking a stranger where the football fans are.
As he descends upon the gathering of fans he realizes that he’s now out of place in his England shirt, putting a French one on top of it and following the crowd. After the game, Ben reveals shirt after shirt of different countries, showing his developing ability to blend in. He joins in with Irish and Romanian fans, who treat him nicely enough. Although two interactions here stand out, beginning to highlight the darker side of the crowd mentality.
A Romanian fan jokingly tells him to chant for Hungary, to which he then tells Ben, “You say this you’re dead.” Hudson cleverly follows this with an exchange with two Irish fans, who tell a confused Ben that they hate Northern Ireland. “They’re scum,” one of them tells him, prompting Ben to ask why. The two fans don’t appear to know why they feel this way, stating in vague terms “there was a war” with seemingly no idea of the reasons behind any of this. They simply go along with the crowd, their nationalistic views reflecting the mob mentality they’re surrounded by.
The EDL march from the opening is then reflected back on, as Ben naively approaches a racist protester. The man shouts a series of nasty, incoherent statements before he’s tackled by the police, as Ben tries to get a sense of what he’s talking about. It’s here that we begin to see the darker side of the football celebrations, as the sense of community fades into a nasty “us vs. them” mentality.
Ben’s attempts to connect with people lead to continually hostile reactions. Resulting in a violent attack from a group of fans simply for wearing the wrong shirt. His naive voiceover about bringing the world together plays over the attack, in a chilling juxtaposition.
As the beaten Ben makes his way home, the announcement of the UK’s vote in favor of Brexit plays over the radio. It might not be the most subtle of edits, but it effectively drives the film’s point home. That the things that bring us together are equally capable of driving a wedge between us. Ben finds a sense of community and belonging in the football crowds but is also exposed to a world of ugliness and violence.
Speaking about the process of developing the character of Ben, Hudson said the following in an interview with It’s Nice That:
“I wanted his naivety and skewed understanding to be the lens through which you might be able to re-see the familiar dynamics of things like football crowds and nationalism. But also Ben needed to be that way in order to waltz into big partizan groups and ask stupid questions and be accepted.”
Ben’s naivety is so essential to the film’s success in drawing the desired responses from people. And the character could be well developed on the page, but if it wasn’t for Colchester’s naturalistic performance, these situations could never take place. Hudson also spoke about how he worked with the actor to experiment with and fully realize the character:
“Before we started filming properly we did four or five character and camera tests, going out to West Ham and Tottenham football matches and setting Merry [Meredith Colchester] loose amid the crowds outside the stadiums. He would try things out and adopt various levels of naivety, learn boundaries and generally experiment with the character of Ben.”
This work certainly paid off, resulting in a performance that so effectively allowed him to blend in and get the necessary reactions from the crowds.
And in the end, we see that despite the darkness previously shown, people can still be brought together by football. The sense of aggressive nationalism is nowhere to be seen in the final moments, as Ben hands off his collection of shirts to a group of people. They care not for the flags and colors that divide them as they proudly hold them up to the cameras, making the title drop that follows particularly impactful.