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Sundance Women Directors: Meet Erika Cohn – ‘In Football We Trust’

Sundance Women Directors: Meet Erika Cohn - 'In Football We Trust'

Erika Cohn is a DGA award-winning filmmaker with a diverse background in the arts and a passion for documentary photography. (Kickstarter)

Co-directed by Tony Vainaku, In Football We Trust will premiere at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival on January 23. 

W&H: Please give us your description of the film playing.

EC: In Football We Trust captures a snapshot in time amid the rise of the Pacific Islander presence in the NFL. Presenting a new take on the American immigrant story, this feature-length documentary transports viewers deep inside the tightly knit Polynesian community in Salt Lake City, Utah.

With unprecedented access and shot over a four-year time period, the film intimately portrays four young Polynesian men striving to overcome gang violence and near poverty through American football. Viewed as the “salvation” of their families, these young players reveal the culture clash they experience as they transform out of adolescence and into the high-stakes world of collegiate recruiting and rigors of societal expectations.

W&H: What drew you to this story?

EC: Wow, so many things drew me to this story. I was born and raised in Salt Lake City, UT, where In Football We Trust takes place and played sports throughout high school. I really identified with the highs and lows of competitive athletics and felt that using sports as a catalyst to address a larger societal issue was key to reaching a wide audience.

When my partner, Tony Vainuku (co-director), first pitched this idea to me, I was inspired by his passion and commitment to accurately representing his culture on the big screen. Then I met our four subjects, whose rare vulnerability and charisma deeply struck me, and I knew their stories needed to be told.

W&H: What was the biggest challenge in making the film?

EC: I think was one of the biggest challenges was shooting cinema verité for three years on a shoe-string budget prior to obtaining funding. However, I would say the biggest challenge was whittling down 600 hours of footage and incorporating four different storylines into a 90-minute film. After 18 months of post-production and with a skilled edit team, we got there!

W&H: What do you want people to think about when they are leaving the theatre?

EC: Ultimately, I hope viewers identify with the families featured in the film and are inspired by our subjects’ lives. In addition, I believe In Football We Trust will illuminate how our country’s infatuation with chasing the “American Dream” can often leave people entrenched in the very conditions they are striving to overcome.

W&H: What advice do you have for other female directors?

EC: Gender is never an excuse or an advantage. But mostly, truly never take no for an answer.

W&H: How did you get your film funded? Share some insights into how you got the film made.

EC: Tony and I spent the first three years financing the film through small fundraisers and via our own bank accounts. In late 2012, ITVS and PIC financed us through their Open Call (after three application rounds), and with their support, we were able to finish the film!

W&H: Name your favorite woman-directed film and why.

EC: I love Patty Jenkins’ Monster. I really admire Lone Scherfig’s films and look up to Kim Longinotto — her cinema verite approach has inspired my work.

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