ESPN to present “HERoics” documentaries

Six Short Films on Women and Soccer During the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2011

ESPN will present HERoics, a series of six short documentaries chronicling women’s courage, perseverance, breaking through barriers, failure and redemption, as part of its unprecedented coverage of the FIFA Women’s World Cup Germany 2011, it was announced today. The series, an ESPN global content development project, will live on, the company’s first dedicated content and digital hub designed to serve, inform and inspire female athletes and fans, beginning Saturday, June 25 – the eve of the Women’s World Cup.

The short films will offer in-depth profiles of FIFA Women’s World Cup players Marta (Brazil), Kelly Smith (England), and Lisa De Vanna (Australia); and highlight unique stories about a group of grandmothers and senior citizens on a team in Jerez, Spain, who continue to play into their 70s and 80s; a woman referee in the Republic of Congo who earned accolades from FIFA while working through the stress of abuse from fans; and a probation officer who uses soccer to steer troubled teens away from gangs in a Central California town.

In the United States, HERoics will debut on television as a one-hour program on ESPN2 on Saturday, June 25, at 7 p.m. ET, the same day it goes live on espnW. The series will air on ABC in the middle of the Women’s World Cup on Saturday, July 2, at 4 p.m.

Hannah Storm, award-winning sportscaster and director of the HERoics profile of England’s Kelly Smith, will host both one-hour programs. (Air dates on ESPN International networks are TBD.) Much like the award-winning ESPN 30 for 30 documentary series, each short film will feature a different director. ESPN is collaborating with six different documentary filmmakers – all women – from diverse cultural backgrounds and countries, and from various genres of television and film storytelling.

HERoics will mirror the 2010 FIFA World Cup series I Scored a Goal, the ambitious, critically acclaimed project by ESPN that featured interviews with all but three of the living players who scored a goal in a World Cup final.

The Stories:

“Dois Riachos to Umeå” (Director: Adriana Yanez)

Born in the small town of Dois Riachos in the Brazilian State of Alagoas (population 11,000), Marta Vieira da Silva, simply known as Marta, has transcended her humble beginnings to become one of her country’s legendary one-name soccer stars. Hers is the newest set of feet (97th) immortalized in cement outside the famed Maracana Stadium, along with the likes of Pele, Garrincha, Zico and Ronaldo. But in 2004, at the age of 18, Marta moved from Dois Riachos to Umeå, Sweden, on a professional contract with Umeå IK. She left her mother and siblings behind in Brazil to begin a journey into a world so different from the place of her birth and a world where she could play women’s soccer as a profession. Through Marta’s eyes and words, and through the family members she left behind, HERoics explores the social milieu between the two countries that helped Marta become the current and record five-time FIFA Player of the Year, a distinction no other male or female player has ever achieved.

“El Chiquitín Fútbol Club” (Director: Sara Lozano)

In Spain, home of the reigning FIFA World Cup and European champions, arcane laws and old mores still pose strong barriers against women who seek to play the sport. But the El Chiquitín Fútbol Club deviates from the norm.  Since 1995, the players, grandmothers and senior citizens in the old town of Jerez, suit up in the locker room, talk trash and play hard for their coach. The oldest player, an 85-year-old known by friends and teammates as La Trini, and her teammates share the love of playing soccer.

“Kelly Smith” (Director: Hannah Storm)

At 32, Smith is undoubtedly the greatest female soccer player ever in the country that invented the sport. At Seton Hall University, Smith shattered numerous records and her number was retired, the first non-basketball athlete to have a number retired. She missed the 2003 season due to a torn ACL. When the WUSA women’s pro soccer league ceased operations in 2004, frustrations mounted for Smith. She returned home to Watford, England, and began “numbing [herself] with alcohol.” Smith has returned to her old goal-scoring and is poised to lead England’s to the Women’s World Cup.

“The Save” (Director: Amanda Micheli)

Gina Castañeda, a deputy probation officer in Watsonville, Calif., is best known for coaching youth soccer to steer her players away from the rising gang turf wars among the largely Hispanic, immigrant population in her community. Castañeda was abandoned by her mother. Soccer saved her life, providing her some normalcy as she parlayed a high school career into an athletic scholarship at San Francisco State University. Through her work with the Aztecas, a team of mostly 20 teenage boys on probation, Castañeda seeks to make a difference in her community.

“L’ Arbitre” (Director: Ruhi Hamid)

Marie Agnès Makengi Kapinga, otherwise known as Mere Malou, was the first international female soccer referee in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Her career began in 1997 when her then husband and professional soccer player, Pierre Mtumbula Mulamba Ndaye (former player for The Leopards of Zaire), abandoned her and their four children to pursue his career in South Africa. In a 15-year refereeing career with numerous accolades from FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association) and CAF (the Confederation of African Football), Marie Agnès endured physical and verbal abuse from fans, but remains dedicated to passing the torch on to present and future generations of female referees in her country.

“Lisa De Vanna” (Director: Safina Oberoi)

Lisa De Vanna is an explosive player. Coaches refer to her as “the kind of player who changes the game.” Arguably one of Australia’s best female players, she is also the Matildas most troublesome – known to get into fights with her teammates and opposing players. While many question why she’s still with the team, others contend the mercurial striker evokes both hostility and compassion. As the Matildas prepare for the Women’s World Cup, the tempestuous but generous player is set for a showcase on the sport’s biggest stage.