Arts

Powerful Street Leagues documentary on homeless football tournament hits Belfast cinemas

New documentary Street Leagues is in cinemas this week

STREET LEAGUES (12A, 57mins) Documentary.

Director: Daniel F Holmes

Rating: 7/10

SHOWING in Belfast cinemas for this week only, Street Leagues is a compelling new documentary about how getting involved in 'the beautiful game' – that's soccer, ye Philistines – has been helping people turn their lives around in Ireland and beyond.

Director Daniel F Holmes focuses on the Dublin-based Irish Homeless Street Leagues initiative, founded by Irish Big Issue editor Sean Kavanagh in 2002 to give those affected by homelessness, addiction and/or unemployment a chance to play football and benefit from having a positive focus in their lives.

The hour long doc charts the journey of the Irish men's and women's national teams to the 2019 Homeless World Cup in Oslo, as they battle to qualify for a chance to become global champions. Training and match footage is mixed with candid player interviews, all of whom are keen to emphasise the huge difference being involved with the Street Leagues – now an all-Ireland affair featuring 13 regional teams – has made to their lives in terms of building confidence, friendships and just generally enabling them to feel part of something good again for the first time in ages.

Street Leagues ambassador Colin Farrell also appears to speak on his own battles with addiction and mental health, offering a compassionate there-but-for-the-grace-of-God perspective on the issues many of the players involved with the programme have been coping with.

Having established its 'characters' and the importance of the competition beyond mere sporting pride, we quickly become invested in the Irish teams' fortunes as they get stuck into the World Cup matches and negotiate the crucial decider games which will determine their progress: football fans can expect to literally be cheering them on as goal scoring opportunities present themselves.

The film makes a powerful point about the worrying rise of homelessness in Ireland over recent years and the cost effectiveness of the Street Leagues initiative – which has repeatedly proven itself capable of helping desperate people to get their lives back on track, with a knock-on positive impact on their families and local community – compared to a more punitive alternative. Kavanagh explains how it cost around €80,000 to take the Irish teams to the Homeless World Cup, about the same as it costs to keep one inmate in prison for a whole year.

After watching Street Leagues, you'll be left in little doubt about which option offers most benefit to the individuals in question and society as a whole.

"This is the way to change things – it's the 'ripple effect'," advises Kavanagh. It's hard to disagree with him.

Street Leagues's cinema screenings will include an interesting opening feature in Margorzata Kawolczwk-Nentwig's short doc Warm For Winter, highlighting the surprisingly controversial initiative started by Clones man Paddy Fryers in December 2018 to encourage the public to donate old coats to Dublin's homeless.

:: Street Leagues is showing today at Odeon Belfast and Omniplex Belfast Kennedy Centre. Tickets via Odeon.co.uk/cinemas/belfast/170/ and Omniplex.ie/cinema/belfast-kennedy-centre

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Arts