Pelada Scores Festival Premiere

As the world turns its eyes to South Africa in anticipation of this year’s World Cup, most will overlook a truly simple message, that soccer has the ability to unite and transcend.  The documentary film, Pelada, which will be featured at the 2010 South by Southwest Film Festival, follows 4 young filmmakers on a journey across the globe as they explore the hidden side of soccer away from the stadiums, corporate sponsors and soccer superstars.

Every country has a different word for it. In the United States, we call it “pick-up soccer.” In Trinidad, it’s “taking a sweat.” In England, it’s “having a kick-about.” In Brazil, the word is “pelada,” which literally means “naked”—the game stripped down to its core. It’s the version of the game played by anyone, anywhere—and it’s a window into lives all around the world. The thing which makes this sport stand out against others is undoubtedly it's worldwide appeal. Whilst some countries might favour games like Poker dk, and others might excel in sports such as athletics, it seems that soccer is one sport which is loved by players from a huge range of different backgrounds and cultures.

Pelada’s genesis lies with Luke Boughen and Gwendolyn Oxenham, two former college soccer stars who didn’t quite make it to the pros.  Not quite ready to hang up their jerseys, Boughen and Oxenham, a graduate of Duke’s English and Documentary Studies program, reached out to former classmates Ryan White and Rebekah Fergusson with an idea for an Endless Summer style documentary about soccer.

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Filmed in 25 countries over a 2 year period, Pelada follows Boughen and Oxenham as they travel the world playing pick up games with everyone from inmates in a Bolivian prison to moonshine brewers in Kenya to Muslim women in Iran who play in secret.  Pelada is undoubtedly a love letter to the game of soccer.  Showcasing the game in its purest form, the film takes a compelling look at the universality of the game and its transcendence across social boundaries and cultural divides.

With film festival season on the horizon, the filmmakers, still short the funding they need to finish the Pelada and take it on the road, recently reconnected with another former classmate, Tommy Swanhaus. Swanhaus, founder of, a web-based media outlet for artists and their work, saw an opportunity to partner with the Pelada team and provide them with a solution to spread awareness about the film.

"Lots of great projects don’t make it to the Big Screen, or any screen for that matter,” said Swanhaus.  “I started to support and bring international awareness to these quality projects, making sure these filmmakers get their story told. The website is founded around the principal of helping artists recoup some of their investment and costs through unconventional ways, both financially and emotionally." 

Raising funds along the way, Pelada was filmed in 3 segments.  The team traveled to South America in the summer of 2007, Europe and Africa in the summer of 2008, and Asia and the Middle East in the spring of 2009.

“More than anything, we were stupid and ambitious in the beginning,” White recalls, who, at 25 years old when filming commenced, served as the team elder.   Harnessing their ambition, the team was able to secure a grant and headed to South America in the summer of 2007.  With soccer as their white flag, the team shot in seven countries, making their way across the continent by plane, train and buses and often “slumming it”.  The trip was undoubtedly a learning experience, with the group depending largely on the kindness of strangers to not only guide them, but feed them as they played soccer in some of South America’s roughest ghettoes. 

“The coolest part of the movie is how unique soccer is.  It gave us access to places we could have never gone because of safety issues,” White said, referring to an experience in Argentina, where the team ventured into a ghetto where even local police dare to tread.  Though dangerous, locals from the neighborhood embraced the team and acted as their guides.  “That was the magic of the movie,” he said.

White said
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it was during the first portion of the trip that he and Fergusson embraced “gorilla-style film making,” learning to shoot and record sound with little or no assistance in a variety of challenging environments. By the end of the trip, they had it “down to a science.”  Returning to the US after three months of shooting, the team was able to put together a 48 minute short film, which they edited for free using Duke’s facilities.

Although the team gathered great footage in South America, it was only the beginning of their journey.  After securing additional funding from an investor in Los Angeles, the team set out in the summer of 2008 to chase the game across Europe and Africa.  Again, Oxenham and Boughen played in any pickup games they could find, documenting the local culture and affinity for (and pervasiveness of) the game everywhere they went.  

While in Africa, White said the team found one of the most ideal environments a filmmaker could hope for.  Though living in a Nairobi slum for two weeks, White said the rich visuals, interesting people and non-stop action of the location, made it his favorite and most memorable part of the trip.

After returning from Africa, White and the rest of the crew agreed that the film would not be complete without footage from the Middle East and Asia.  Up for one more challenge, the crew headed out on the final leg of its epic trip in the spring of 2009. 

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Once again strapped for cash, White said the team’s trip to Iran, which is featured in the movie, tested their determination and ability to film in a tough environment.  Using guides to navigate around the country, White said they were not allowed to use their standard video cameras during a pickup game involving females.  Instead, the crew resorted to using smaller cameras as to avoid drawing unwanted attention and possible trouble from government officials. 

Despite all the challenges, White, Oxenham, Boughen, and Fergusson returned to the US with more than 400 hours of material, resulting in Pelada, a 90 minute film documenting their epic  journey.

Chosen to screen at the South by Southwest Festival, which begins March 12, 2010 in Austin, Texas, Pelada is already drawing interest both domestically and internationally as the creators work day and night to put the final touches on film.  To donate to the film, please visit

Reporting by Page Robinson



luke boughen
Luke Boughen

Before setting out on this trip, Boughen had a job in outdoor advertising, aka: billboards.  In college, Boughen helped Notre Dame to Big East regular season and tournament titles, picking up all-tournament, national team of the week, and academic honors.  The center midfielder was an Anthropology major.  Receiving a grant to study sustainable development and social entrepreneurship, Boughen also lived in Rio de Janeiro and played in daily peladas.

gwendolyn oxenham
Gwendolyn Oxenham

Oxenham received her MFA in creative writing from the University of Notre Dame, where she won the Nicholas Sparks Prize, a post-graduate grant to finish her first book.  A 2004 graduate of Duke University's programs in English and Documentary Studies, she made Essence Game and DWS, two short films centered on identity in sports.

At sixteen, Oxenham was the youngest Division I athlete in the history of the NCAA.  A Duke captain, she made two All-ACC teams, led the Duke team in assists, and was named Most Inspirational Player.  She played professionally for Santos FC in Brazil in 2005.

rebekah fergusson
Rebekah Fergusson

Fergusson is a freelance videographer, editor, and independent documentary filmmaker.  Based in California, she has worked for L.A. based television productions, produced video for organizations like U.S. Soccer, and is currently shooting for a documentary about a federal lawsuit against the California ban on gay marriage.

A 2007 graduate of Duke University's programs in English and Documentary Studies, she was the recipient of the Julia Harper Day award as well as a Benenson Arts Grant.  Also a captain for Duke Women's Soccer, she received the Coaches Award in 2006.  Fergusson produced four short films while at Duke, including Has Beens, which featured Boughen and Oxenham.

ryan white
Ryan White

White is the owner of Tripod Media LLC and the producer of Pelada. White worked as Associate Producer for eight-time Emmy winner Sherry Jones. His screen credits include: Capitol Crimes (Bill Moyers, PBS), a ninety-minute documentary untangling the web of money and corruption surrounding lobbyist Jack Abramoff; Dead Wrong: Inside an Intelligence Meltdown (CNN), an examination of the flawed intelligence that ultimately led to war in Iraq; 9/11: For the Record (Bill Moyers, PBS) an exploration of the findings of the 9/11 Commission, and Country Boys (PBS), a six-hour profile following two boys from rural Kentucky through their high school years.

White is a graduate of Duke University's programs in Documentary Studies, Film & Video, and Literature. He is currently shooting a behind-the-scenes documentary about a federal lawsuit against the ban on gay marriage in California.

pelada still image salt desert
still image from pelada movie
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