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Eastside FC Alum Connects Cultures
Through Soccer

Terry Kegel wants you to know that he does not consider himself a filmmaker. A teacher, yes. A soccer player, yes. A traveler, yes.

But a filmmaker?



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No, Kegel has never considered himself that. His new film, "I Speak Soccer," however, suggests otherwise.

Comprised of home video shot by Kegel over the course of three years spent teaching abroad in Thailand, Brazil and Nigeria, "I Speak Soccer" shows the power of the beautiful game to create a common dialogue that is understood by people of nearly all cultural, economic and ethnic backgrounds.

By playing together, we learn about each other, says Kegel, a former Emerald City FC player and Lakeside High School graduate. Through learning about each other, we form a common ground from which we can discover and celebrate each other's differences.

The idea for the film first came when Kegel — the Seattle-born son of South African immigrants who was raised on a steady diet of soccer and travel to visit family abroad — spent a college semester studying in France. Despite not being completely familiar with the language or culture, Kegel was able to form close connections with the locals through soccer, having joined a pickup game one day a few weeks into his stay.

"By sharing soccer and sharing those experiences with them, I really got to understand not only their game, but their culture," says Kegel. "Once I had that experience, I became curious every time I traveled about how that's different in each case."

At first, Kegel simply wanted to document his experiences, in order to better be able to share them with his friends and family back home. It wasn't until Kegel's first day in Brazil — after a year spent teaching, playing and filming in Thailand — that he first saw past the surface concept of filming soccer around the world, to the powerful story of cultural connectedness waiting to be told.

"I was just blown away by the volume on the court [in Brazil], and the way the players teased each other and pushed each other … that was something I hadn't experienced at all in Thailand," he says. "I realized how different the game looks in each place and how much it is affected by the culture and the environment of that specific place. That was really the point that the footage grew from something I was shooting just for myself and my friends, into something much bigger."

The resulting 84-minute film takes viewers from the bustling streets of Thailand to the beaches of Brazil and the pot-holed fields of Nigeria, each stop illustrating how the game of soccer provides a fundamental framework for understanding a different culture, even as the game itself is markedly different from place to place.

Since returning to the U.S. and editing the footage — a process Kegel says he learned "by trial-and-error" and one that added months to the production time — Kegel has shown "I Speak Soccer" at a number of film festivals, community centers, churches and schools, where it has received rave reviews, including the Audience Award at the 2009 Seattle True International Film Festival, and another award at Philadelphia's Independent Film Festival.

Kegel says that the audiences for the film have applied their own interpretations to its scenes, their personal viewing experience framed in large part by their pre-existing cultural and personal backgrounds. In that way, he says, the film's screenings have almost become a microcosm of its core subject, allowing viewers with varied life experiences to form common connections with the film in their own individual ways.

"It's been fun," Kegel says of putting his film on public display. "I've actually really appreciated the reaction from different groups. There's the soccer group, which kind of includes two groups … in America, we have a lot of organized ‘league' soccer, and then there's also the people who really get pickup soccer, who play a lot of pickup soccer, and they both get the movie in a different way. But in addition to the soccer people, there are a lot of other people who have traveled and appreciate the idea of finding a common interest across different cultures. Travelers get that, and appreciate that part of it.

"Also, I'm an elementary school teacher," he says. "Kids understand learning through play, and I think that's a big theme of the movie. When we play together, we learn about each other. Kids get that, and I think teachers appreciate it. So it's nice to show the movie to those different groups and see how different people get it. It's not just a soccer movie; it's not just a travel movie. It's more."

Though the movie has met with significant success, Kegel says he has no immediate plans to make another. Remember — he's a teacher, not a filmmaker.

"I'd like to continue to tell stories through film in my classes and my teaching," he says. "Film is such a powerful way to tell a story. I could never have been able to put into words the cultural and personal experiences I had abroad in a way that would have conveyed the real emotion of those experiences to people back home. Soccer, though, is something they can connect to right away, and by putting it on film, it allows them to share that experience with me in a way they never could have otherwise.

"The project has been such a journey, from writing it, to filming, to editing and putting it out there. It's been really empowering experience for me and has really helped me to come home, in a way, by sharing the experience with my friends and family here."

Kegel hopes that American youth soccer players will see "I Speak Soccer" and draw connections between their own experiences and those of young people in other parts of the world. While copies of the movie are for sale at ispeaksoccer.com, with 100 percent of proceeds being sent directly to the Right To Play charity, Kegel also enjoys screening the movie for church groups, schools, clubs and other audiences throughout the Northwest.

"My personal goal is that youth soccer players in America see it," he says. "I'd like to broaden their perspective of soccer, so they can see it the same way it was for me —a forum, or a tool, for looking over the whole world. I think it can be that way for a lot of people, because the game is universal; it's an in with the kids all over the world. If American youth players can start to see that and feel that and develop a curiosity for other people who are different from them, then I think that's a part of soccer that we need to teach them about."

Terry Kegel is a former Washington Youth Soccer player and current elementary school teacher. If you have any questions or are interested in attending or hosting a screening of "I Speak Soccer," visit ispeaksoccer.com or contact Terry directly at ispeaksoccer@gmail.com.









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