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In a league of their own

Wednesday, 9th September, 2020 3:13pm

“It was one of the best experiences of my life, not just as a filmmaker, but as a human being.”

It might be the room he’s in when I call him, or maybe a side effect of WhatsApp, but filmmaker Daniel F Holmes’ voice comes to me doused in reverb, adding even more resonance to his words.

He is jetlagged after flying from his native Chicago back to Ireland, but he is determined to share the story of how he documented an extraordinary group of Irish people’s journey to the Homeless World Cup in Oslo in 2017.

I’m calling him because his film ‘Street Leagues’ is about to be released nationwide on 25 September having already premiered at the 2020 Dublin International Film Festival where it received a Special Commendation for Human Rights on Film.

The hour-long documentary follows two teams of Irish players, men and women with backgrounds in homelessness and addiction, as they rise from their daily struggles to compete on the world stage.

Director Daniel, who has been living in Dublin for the past three years, became involved in the project shortly after moving to the capital.

“I immediately fell in love with the project. It was one of those things where I didn't care how difficult it was going to be, I had to do it.”

Working on his own and with no outside funding, Daniel committed himself to the story, doing whatever was necessary to capture to drama and the emotion of the tournament and the people involved.

“It was very emotional. The last thing I ever wanted to do was impose on their experience,” he explains.

“Where we lacked a large film crew, it allowed for a certain kind of intimacy with the players because it was just me. And they took to it really quickly and I think that's reflected in the documentary.”

Off the pitch, the film candidly delves into the lives of the players and what competing for their country means to them.

“Doing those interviews was incredibly emotional. One of the things that I hope the film achieves is that it allows people to get to know people who are facing these challenges. I hadn't really been exposed to that myself before I sat across from them. It was very inspiring,” says Daniel.

He adds: “It's not just about football. The sense of purpose, the community, the support, the sense of achievement; there's so many factors. As competitive as these games are, and as much as every team wants to win, there's always a sense of togetherness and inclusiveness between all the countries. The level of support that these teams have for each other is just off the charts.”

The Homeless World Cup has been running since 2003 and has brought hundreds of players together from over 40 countries every year to compete.

The Irish Street Leagues were founded by Ireland’s Big Issue magazine editor Sean Kavanagh in 2002 in an effort to connect with local young people who were heading down a dark path in life.

More than 200 people showed up for the first tournament from every corner of the country, and since then the Irish Street Leagues have been growing every year with over 3,000 participants to date.

“This group now has this to look back on. It's documented forever. I'm so happy to be the one who could do that for them. It was a very powerful experience,” says Daniel.

During the film, ambassador for the Irish teams, actor Colin Farrell compares what the players have gone through to his own struggles with addiction in the past.

“I’ve been to rehab. I’ve been an alcoholic and a drug addict, but the only difference is I had something of a film career to step back into. It can happen to any of us, there's so many factors involved,” said Farrell.

‘Street Leagues’ will be in cinemas nationwide from 25 September with all box office takings going directly to Street Leagues Ireland.

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