F(l)ag Football, The Movie

Phoenix Hellraisers score silver screen stats in Phoenix Film Festival documentary

By Hans Pedersen – March 26, 2015 – three and a half stars
WEB_f(l)ag football poster

Photo courtesy of flagfootballthemovie.com.

It wasn’t long ago that the NFL slingshot the Valley into the national spotlight as the host city for Super Bowl XLIX. But in this documentary, which highlights the National Gay Flag Football League (NGFL) and such players as former NFL star Wade Davis, the focus is a very different kind of championship game that happened in the Valley.

Every year more than two-dozen teams from across the U.S. compete to be the Gay Bowl champions. The wild world of gay football is the subject of F(l)ag Football (flagfootballthemovie.com), which screens at the 2015 Phoenix Film Festival at 7:20 and 9 p.m. March 30.

Written and produced by Seth Greenleaf, the movie focuses on three teams – the New York Warriors, LA Motion and our own local Phoenix Hell Raisers – and shows how they train for the big game, and battle it out on the field at the Gay Bowl championship that took place in Phoenix. Read Echo’s coverage of Gay Bowl XIII here.

The movie, which was shot primarily in Phoenix, stars local players from the Phoenix Hellraisers and includes a few brief scenes at local nightspots like Charlie’s.

The fun is watching our local flag football stars take the field – as well as their antics off the field. It’s a bit of a thrill to see Phoenix represented in this documentary: You cannot help but root for the home team and quarterback Joey Jacinto as he tosses the pigskin around the field.

Then there’s the New York Warriors, a team that won three years in a row until they were beaten by the LA Motion – a disciplined group that has had a taste victory and is hungry for more. Members from both sides open up in interviews about how badly they yearn for the championship title. There’s even a subplot about the sense of betrayal surrounding a former New York Warriors coach who has since moved to the LA Motion.

When all three teams finally head to the Valley to play the big game, even non-football fans will feel a rush of excitement.

Some of the movie’s most powerful moments are the interviews with players about coming out to their family. Wade Davis, former NFL player with the Seattle Seahawks and the Washington Redskins, shares one of the more heartbreaking stories: He explains how his mother ostracized him because of his sexuality.

Davis, who’s now captain of the New York Warriors, said being in the gay league means more to him than can be imagined.

It’s moments like these that will also have you rooting for the Warriors. Additionally, the Warriors have the league’s first trans player, Molly, on their roster.

Despite the fascinating stories, this documentary feels weighed down at times by lots of practice footage from the field that does not necessarily move the story forward. Some of the scenes end up feeling like padding, instead of narrative muscle.

The strongest sections are by far the interviews with the players about their sexuality, during which they also share enlightening moments about gay stereotypes and definitions of manhood.

Grappling with the nature of what it means to be a guy, a few of these guys had to make the choice between football and living an open and honest life.

Players also speak frankly about how the football industry does not exactly embrace or support the gay community. Team members also make the point that playing in a gay football league shatters stereotypes, while making a statement in the process.
The movie addresses the issue of what happens when a lot of straight guys start joining a team: When does it cease to be a gay league?

In a compelling subplot, the LA Motion wind up with too many straight guys on the team, a violation of NGFL rules that state 20 percent of the team ought to identify as gay. The team is faced with the decision of how to proceed.

In defense of the league rules, one veteran player points out that the gay community needs a gay-oriented team in order to feel safe. It’s a story that might have served as a greater narrative backbone to the entire film.

Perhaps sports fans will find all the practice footage entertaining, but ironically they seem to slow down the story a bit. Still, this crowd-pleaser features local athletes, who represent our city on a national stage, and tackles questions about manhood and gay identity through the prism of the quest for the national championship

Check out our next issue – out April 9 – for interviews with members of the Phoenix Hellraisers.

F(l)ag Football at the 2015 Phoenix Film Festival
7:20 and 9 p.m. March 30
Harkins Scottsdale 101
7000 E. Mayo Blvd., Scottsdale