PROGRESS. Directed by Simon Taylor, featuring players and supporters of the Progress Rugby Club in Uitenhage. At the Labia Cinema on Friday at 6.15pm. STEYN DU TOIT reviews.
DURING the opening game of the 2006 National Rugby Club Championships in Stellenbosch, one of the biggest upsets in the competition’s 40-year history took place in front of the 17 000-strong crowd at Danie Craven Stadium.
Progress, one of two “black quota teams” invited to participate alongside the 14 official provincial teams, managed to beat the reigning champions, Stellenbosch Rugby Club (Maties), by 24-21.
In order to fully comprehend the immensity of this feat, keep in mind that Maties has 53 teams and more than 1 300 registered rugby players to choose from, making them one of the biggest competitive rugby clubs in the world (they’ve produced nearly 200 Springboks so far).
Progress, on the other hand, has no more than 50 possible players, its team comprising mainly factory workers and unemployed individuals from one of the Eastern Cape’s poorest parts.
Simon Taylor’s Progress is a David versus Goliath documentary that not only investigates this monumental coup, but also puts faces to the group of Uitenhage men responsible for the upset that day. By following various members of the club for a year, the film reveals their day- to-day hardships and the camaraderie that unites them.
Starting with a training session one evening after work, the viewer is introduced to the various members of the team. Watching them give their all after a day of slogging away at a thankless and low-paying job, cheerfully sweating and laughing in-between tackles and passes, immediately drives the point home that this is much more than just a few amateur rugby enthusiasts killing time.
“Rugby is all about gelling as a team, and feeling (bonded to) each other,” one player explains during the opening scene. “When you have something going on in your life that is disrupting your game, your teammates must know about it.”
Another recalls once not being able to afford a pair of rugby shorts: “A fellow player’s wife went and bought them for me. For him it’s R29, but to me it’s all about opening up to him and telling about my situation.”
A hit at both the Encounters and Cape Winelands film festivals, the documentary then follows several of the players home to provide a closer look at the community of Rossdale, just outside Uitenhage. Similar to many other parts of the Eastern Cape it has been greatly neglected by the government and largely forgotten by the rest of society.
Some of the players we meet along the way include Comfort, a star player and frequent try-scorer; Zama, a big and burly prop with an infectious personality; and Jacques, an attorney by day who is described as the team’s father figure.
Shot on a limited budget (Taylor filmed over four-day periods whenever time and personal finances allowed for it), the director does a great job gaining the trust of his subjects and establishing a compelling visual narrative. There are scenes depicting the players’ workplaces, homes, pre-game changing room pep talks and weekly social get-togethers.
Watching the build-up to Progress’s annual derby against arch-rivals Gardens Rugby Club, also makes for exciting viewing. The enthusiasm and feverishness with which the entire community comes together to support their local stars are outweighed only by unexpectedly unwelcome news mere hours before the game.
A possible factor to consider for future screenings would be the inclusion of name titles, as well as brief descriptions of each interviewee’s role within the community.
Apart from the players, we also meet a host of family members, individuals from the community and fans, often featured via a succession of fast cuts, making the figuring out of who’s who a bit difficult.
Described as “Invictus on a local level”, Progress comes to Cape Town for only one screening. It is an important film that once again highlights the impact sport can have on nation building, in particular a fractured society such as ours.
Following its showing at the Labia on Friday, there will also be a Q&A with film-makers afterwards. Attendance is highly recommended.
l Tickets are R30. To book, call 021 424 5927 or see www.labia.co.za.