Monday, May 02, 2005

Tribeca Hooligans

When Elijah Wood was done with Lord of the Rings, he wanted to do something very different. So he signed up for a gritty indie film in which he gets to kick the living daylights out of Man U supporters. Screening at the Tribeca Film Festival, Hooligans is the powerful debut of Lexi Alexander, a former kickboxing champ from Germany who went to LA to become a filmmaker, doing stuntwork to pay for the bills. She took continuing education classes in directing at UCLA and made an Oscar-nominated short film about a boxer.

The average Newyorker's idea of team rivalry is shouting Boston sucks!!! at a baseball game, while downing tepid Bud Lites. No matter how much Yankees fans pretend to hate the BoSox, they will happily squeeze into the same subway car on the way down from the Bronx. Not so in Europe.

Elijah Wood plays Matt Buckner, a talented journalism student who gets kicked out of Harvard through no fault of his own. He flees to London, where his sister lives with a banker-type, who farms out Matt to his kid brother. Through Matt's American eyes, Stateside audiences are introduced to the excitement that comes with football matches - and post-game recreation in the form of a West Ham firm. For those already familiar with football, the film is intruiging for the stylishly choreographed fight scenes, superb acting and the train wreck that is Matt's culture shock. Hooligans has been sold to most European countries, including the U.K., where UIP will release the film later this year.

Filmmaker Lexi Alexander has first-hand experience with firms, having been a member in her native Mannheim. They really didn't take girls, but since she was their kickbox teacher, they couldn't refuse. "The guys would get together on Wednesday evenings to figure out the map of the away-city. When you realise that all of these guys have normal jobs, but this is what they do on the weekends, right there you have a movie, because it's all about character."

Although she received full co-operation from West Ham United, Lexi had less-than-great experiences with the London authorities when it came to shooting there. "They're not really friendly to independent filmmakers. If they do let you shoot, you have to pay a lot of money. They're not as infatuated with the film world; they couldn't care less. When I was shooting my short film in Alabama, the senator would send the local pizzerias to feed us and he would come on the set to ask me what else I needed. That kind of thing could not happen in London." Indeed. The idea of Ken Livingston doling out kebabs on a film set in Southwark seems positvely far-fetched.

The film's producer Deborah del Prete generously gave Lexi an executive producer credit. "My business partner and I like to support female talent. I had been to London and seen the excitement around soccer, but I never realised it was organised around formal groups. Lexi's script gave me an insight in how young males could be sucked into that violence. I have a teenage son and I was always wondering, 'how do guys get involved in that?' So the film is really a cautionary tale."

Update from Tom (03/05/05): The original script for Hooligans was written by Guild member Dougie Brimson.

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