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"In the Game" Review- an inspirational documentary by Kartemquin Films, Chicago

By Debra Davy

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“In the Game”, a 2015 documentary directed by  double Peabody-Award winner Maria Finitzo and produced by Chicago’s award-winning documentary filmmaker, Kartemquin Films, is a work of art that is moving in a variety of ways. It’s the antithesis of sugarcoated Hollywood feel-good stories, yet it will make you feel really happy and fulfilled. It doesn’t shrink from exposing the most bitter of truths about the injustice in our public school system, yet it reveals the core solidarity that can exist in those schools. Finally, it puts paid to any notions stirred up by our recent Presidential-race bombast that Latino-Americans are anything but hard-working, dedicated, loving and loyal societal and family members of inestimable worth.

Coach Stan and girls sitting on the ground

This movie follows the lives of female high-school seniors on the soccer team at Kelly High School in Brighton Park on the Southwest Side of Chicago, during their final year and three years into their futures.  80% of students here live near the poverty line of income. While it may appear significant to some that only one of the girls actually appears to be successful at continuing on with her education, they are all successful in remaining true to themselves, their friends, their families, their dignity.

Dejected soccer players

For these young women, working together with other girls and a truly remarkable coach is an obviously life-changing experience. They are filmed getting up at 4 to drive to practice, practicing whenever and wherever possible, including sprinting through hallways when the gym is unavailable. They have no regular practice field of their own, must struggle with all the students over budget cuts that would be unthinkable to some of the teams they compete against- they are reduced to bringing their own toilet paper!- and yet they are not just  uncomplaining, but demonstrably filled with joy.

The team

The coach, himself a Kelly graduate who knows what it means to readjust your dreams- an ACL injury kept him out of professional sports- spends inordinate amounts of time encouraging them, maybe more time developing team spirit and cohesiveness than he does actually training them to play. He teaches them to reach for their goals, and to lose with dignity. Significantly, the many little get-togethers, with small prizes and speeches he assembles for the girls and their families  are replicated later as they get back together again as a group years after they’ve graduated.

Teacher and Coach

What is most remarkable about these young people is how proud and happy they are, how accepting of their fate. We follow them as they, one by one, succumb to the pressures of after-school and then full-time work, the cultural and natural desires to get married and reproduce at a young age, the pull and rewards of family life triumphing over the nonexistent funding or drive toward higher education. And yet, there is no sense in their demeanor or their words of having sacrificed- there is only obvious pride in their work and lives. The movie was an inspiring glimpse into a world filled with important values and significant meaning, most unusual in a larger society driven by goods and status symbols. It's highly recommended for all ages.

The girls and a mom

"In life you deal with what's dealt your way. When you get knocked down, just get up right away. Never give up".- Stan Mietus, Soccer Coach, Kelly High School


For information on “In the Game” and the other wonderful movies produced by Kartemquin Films, go to the Kartemquin website


All photos courtesy of Kartemquin Films



Published on Jan 27, 2017

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