‘Nigeria Is the Best Team in Africa’-Brigitta Weich
Brigitta Weich is a lawyer-turned-filmmaker who travelled to Canada from her Austrian homeland to work on a documentary involving a former North Korean female footballer. Anthony Akaeze, senior assistant editor, speaks with her recently in Winnipeg, Canada on her career, passion and impression of the Nigerian female national team, Super Falcons. Excerpts:
What are you working on at the moment?
I came to Winnipeg, because I’m following a referee who is officiating here in the (FIFA Women’s) World Cup and the first game she led was here in Winnipeg, Nigeria against Sweden. I’m a filmmaker. I made a documentary film about the football team of North Korea and at that time, when I made the film, she was an active player on the national team of the PRK (North Korea) and in the film, we focused on four protagonists: an attacker, midfielder, defender and goalkeeper of the then national team and she was the midfielder and game maker of the team. Her name is Ri Hyang Ok.
So did you watch the match, which she officiated?
Yes, I did.
What’s your impression of the match?
I think it was fantastic. I know the Swedish and Nigerian teams quite a bit because, also in the previous World Cup when we were following the team of North Korea, they were very often playing Nigeria and Sweden at the group level. So, when I watched the Nigeria – Sweden game, I was very amazed to see that Precious Dede is still the Nigerian goalkeeper. I think she’s a great goalie. For our film we covered the World Cup of 2003 in the United States and I was amazed to see Precious Dede after more than 10 years because the North Korean team has virtually changed. There’s no player that’s the same like back in 2003.
What is your impression of the Nigerian team, Super Falcons?
I like their fighting spirit. Against Sweden, they were two goals down and I think that many teams lose confidence (in such situations) but then they caught up, then they were down again and again they equalised. Against Sweden, which is a strong side, I was really impressed with the morale of the team. To fight their way back and finish the game the way it ended was like a victory for Nigeria. That impressed me very much.
What’s your area of interest as a filmmaker? Is it just football or anything sports related?
Actually, I’m a trained lawyer. I was not trained as a filmmaker. The film I made on the North Korean team was my first. Not only was I not interested in women’s football, I didn’t even know that women’s football existed because in Austria, the country I came from, it’s not popular at all. Yet Austria is a neighbour to Germany which is a powerhouse in women’s football. In Austria, the games are not shown on TV and Austria women’s football is practically non-existent at this point. You never hear about it; you never read about it. They don’t participate in international tournaments so I really didn’t know about the existence of women’s football. But I’m a lawyer by training and have worked in the cultural field for many years and it happened that I travelled to a film festival in Pyongyang and that was actually my first interest in the country. That was shortly before we started shooting (documentary) in 2002. In PRK, everything is very restricted, and if you travel there as a foreigner, you are not allowed to walk on the streets alone and you are always accompanied by your guide and you have to strictly follow your programme. You go to all the official places and monuments but you never see every day life so to speak and back then I heard that the women’s team of North Korea was so good. They had just become Asian champions and they were among the top 10 on FIFA world ranking and I wanted to watch a game because I had a feeling I wanted to see some real people doing some real things in that country. That’s how it all started. We filmed a match in the Kim II-sung Stadium in 2007. It took me five years to have my wish granted to access the stadium. I thought somebody should make a film about the team because I didn’t have a chance to see them (in action) and ultimately it was me who made the film.
Did you get financial support to work on the project?
Well, in Austria you can get funding from the state for cultural things. It may be writing, it may be painting, music, dancing or filmmaking. So I applied. But the very first step, I had to finance myself. For instance, the first thing we did, I and my camerawoman, was to travel to Bangkok. That was the first shooting trip financed by myself and then I started applying for funding. This was also hard work in the long process but ultimately we received funding for this film.
So how fulfilled are you as a filmmaker?
Well, this project was one of the most important and interesting work I have done in my life because you very intensely have to focus on your subject. I got to know PRK; I got to know women’s football quite intensely which requires travelling all over the place not like a tourist but with the subject matter. You really try to study things and try to understand something about the world. This is very fulfilling, and if in the end it works out that you have understood or you think you have understood a certain subject, then you can tell it to a broader audience. It’s very fulfilling so I really like it.
How easy has it been combining your work as a lawyer and a filmmaker?
Well, that’s an interesting question because, for me, it’s a good combination in two ways. First of all, I know many legal things. My company which produced the film is a very small company and I don’t have budget so I am dependent on this film funding which is also not huge money so I don’t have a lot to spend. But as a lawyer I can do all the legal stuff myself, for instance, dealing with rights issues which is important. If you make a film about football, it’s nearly impossible sometimes to get the right. We had, maybe five different tournaments I think in our film with different rights holders and some of them were very easy going and forthcoming. For instance, the Asian Football Confederation, back then, they were so lovely, they gave us lots of access and charged very little money for the right and so on. We got the right in perpetuity because normally you don’t get the right in perpetuity but only a certain amount of time which really is a problem because you have your film which is 100 minutes long and in this 100 minutes you have 10 seconds of a football game and if the right expires after five years or 10 years, you can no more show your 100 minutes film because of the 10 seconds of football footage that is in there. We don’t make money on these films (but) we had the film festival where it became, this year, the best Austrian documentary. We had a small release in the theatres in Austria and Germany, it was shown on Austrian TV so it did well in its range but this is nothing that you can make big money on. So, if after 10 years your right expires and there’s no money to pay and get the right for a longer period… with some federations it was easy, but some others especially FIFA, it was hard. For Olympic footage, it was really hard. Ultimately we got it and there were really people who at some point understood and after really many years of negotiation we got the right to use the footage. For us, within the budget, it was a huge amount of money but I guess, for FIFA or IOC [International Olympic Committee], it was nothing. They understood that we were not a big TV company, a big global player on the market. This is really hard but as a lawyer I have at least the knowledge about right because I couldn’t have afforded to pay for an attorney who does this.
What’s your impression of Nigeria?
Actually the whole African continent, including Nigeria is not familiar to me, so this is something I should look into. Before I started the film on PRK football team I hadn’t been to Asia at all. So, North Korea was the first place I went and back then, many people wondered what it is with women’s football of North Korea. You couldn’t find a more absurd topic but in my opinion, it’s very interesting to look at a country from the point of female footballers because it immediately brings you to issues of how the society works in terms of gender stereotype in any way and human rights and so I think it’s very interesting to look at a country through their women’s football. Even Austria will be interesting and then maybe Africa and Nigeria, because I think Nigeria has been the best team in the continent in decades.