Films about cricket are like buses – you wait for ages and then two arrive in close succession. First came Death of a Gemtleman, a fine documentary that challenged the way that the authorities are running the game. Now we have the equally impressive Warriors, another Documentary but one that tells a very different story.
Warriors is a tour de force by Barney Douglas, who directed and produced it, co-wrote the music and was an assistant editor. It’s a reasonable assumption that if the production runner took a day off sick, Barney was there making the tea.
The film tells the unlikely story of how a group of Maasai warriors from the small Kenyan village of Il-Polei learnt how to play cricket and got to tread the hallowed turf of Lord’s. Remarkable though that is in itself, it is only half of the story. The film also documents how the warriors, through playing cricket, found the wisdom and the courage to challenge some of the norms of the patriarchal Maasai culture. The most frequently used acronyms in Warriors are not LBW or DRS but FGM and HIV.
It is the practice in Maasai society that, between the ages of eight and 10, young girls are subjected to circumcision or, to be more blunt and honest, female genital mutilation (FGM). Only then are they are ready (in the eyes of the Maasai elders) to be married off and to give birth. The consequences of this are that girls rarely complete an education and are seen as second class citizens, often handed over in marriage in exchange for cattle. Botched FGM procedures, the practice of polygamy and the absence of basic birth control means that HIV and AIDS are prevalent.
One of the most moving scenes in the film shows a herbalist telling how his skills in traditional medicine failed to prevent his daughter’s death from AIDS.
The film succeeds in blending together the often light-hearted scenes of the young warriors learning the rudiments of the game of cricket with the more serious explorations of the girls’ plight and the entrenched views of the elders who are not used to challenge. “As a warrior, your role is not to make decisions, not even to give your views,” says one of the young cricketers.
The film is visually stunning, to the extent that sometimes it looks like an advertisement for the Kenya Tourist Board. The warriors themselves are physically impressive, which only goes to make more entertaining some of their less successful attempts at the basics of the game such as catching the ball.
South African Aliya Bauer, the female coach to the Maasai cricketers, is a key figure in the film, a voice of commonsense and determination. But it is the warriors themselves who rightly dominate the scene. Sonyanya, the team captain, is seen in many moods. He can be playful, determined, humorous and also soulful, especially when he finds peace walking by the river as he contemplates threats with a spear from someone who believes that he has thwarted a potential circumcision by reporting it to the police.
The event that brings the warriors to England is Last Man Stands, a global competition founded in 2005. It has been described as the widest reaching amateur cricket league in the world, encompassing around 30,000 players worldwide. The format is 8-a-side T20. As for the name, when the seventh wicket falls, the Last Man Stands on his own!
So how did the Maasai warriors, clad in their colourful costumes, fare in England? Well, maybe it’s best that you watch the film to find out. Their success or failure in the competition could have formed the climax of the film. In fact, there is a riveting final part set back in Kenya in which the warriors engage in dialogue with the village elders and challenge them on the ancient practices related to girls and women. They are reinforced by the Maasai believe that ““the eye that leaves the village sees further” and finds wisdom.
Remarkably, the elders listen to the young warriors and resolve to change some of the ancient practices in relation to FGM and the role of women in the community. Was this just a scene played out for the camera after which traditional practices resumed? Apparently not for, since the completion of the film, two charities, 28 Too Many and Cricket Without Boundaries, have partnered with the Maasai warriors to run the first anti-FGM programme in their community and in the wider region of Laikipia.
Overall, this is a visually attractive film that tells a compelling and unusual story. Sometimes it alternates too rapidly between naturally observed shots and others that seem obviously staged. But overall, it makes for engaging viewing. Whether you are interested in cricket or in the clash between old and young, between ancient customs and modern ideas, it is a film not to be missed.
Warriors had its official UK premiere in London on 13 November. It is showing in selected UK cinemas from 21 November. More information is at http://www.warriorsfilm.co.uk/