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‘Warriors’ – A heartwarming story for those who don’t like cricket and those who love it

| Cinema, Sport | 21/01/2016


By Ian Cater, Chief Features Writer

It’s not often you’re asked to review a film about cricket, the Maasai tribe and female genital mutilation (FGM), but Barney Douglas’ directorial debut successfully draws these strands into a heartwarming and sensory piece.

‘Warriors’ is a work of genuine artistic merit that is – for the first time since 10cc’s Dreadlock Holiday – as enjoyable for those who don’t like cricket (oh, no) as for those who love it.  That’s because ‘Warriors’ isn’t really about cricket, despite England fast bowler Jimmy Anderson being the film’s Executive Producer.  Nor is it really about tribal culture or FGM.  It’s a documentary about role models and courage, about using a platform to stand up for causes you believe in.

And this is a message as applicable to Londoners as to anyone else.

The film focuses on members of the Maasai tribe living in the cinematically engaging shadow of Mount Kenya.  Their traditional way of life is interrupted when they are introduced to cricket by Aliya Bauer, a South African researcher.  The game soon captivates the tribe’s young men, not just for its novelty value: in its bowling action, they see similarities to how they throw rocks and spears to protect livestock, and batting draws parallels with the way they use their shields in battle.

Embracing their enthusiasm, Bauer agrees to coach them and in 2009 establishes a team: the Maasai Cricket Warriors.  While using the bats and pads she sources, the Warriors otherwise decide to play in their traditional tribal attire.  This quickly draws the world’s media (including Barney Douglas) to visit Kenya and set eyes on the arresting contrast between the ancient and the modern.

The Warriors decide to play in traditional tribal attire.

For many young men, this attention and the impact of the media glare would be short-lived.  But the Warriors choose to use their fame to make a difference, using it as a platform from which to speak out against the traditional tribal practices they consider to be harmful: principally FGM, which puts young girls at greater risk of disease (including HIV/AIDS) and – through its link to early marriages – limits their opportunities for education.

“in its bowling action, [the Warriors] see similarities to how they throw rocks and spears to protect livestock”

FGM is officially banned in Kenya, but the elders continue to regard it as an important part of Maasai culture.  This leads to a generational clash: in one instance, a cricketer is threatened with a spear after preventing a girl from being circumcised.  One of the elders comments: “It is the world that is changing, not you or I.”

The Warriors fail to win the argument until 2013 when they are invited to compete in the Last Man Stands World Championship, an amateur cricket tournament hosted in London.  Their excitement is obvious, not solely for sporting reasons, but also because travel may help them earn greater respect in the community.  As the Maasai saying goes: “The eye that leaves the village sees further.”

As we watch the Warriors try to improve their cricketing skills and undertake their long journey, concern creeps in for how they’ll adjust to the flood of new experiences.  But this endearing group seems unfazed, marvelling at the sights (especially the London Eye and Lord’s Cricket Ground) and more than meeting their obligations with the press.

The Warriors meet England’s Jimmy Anderson, Executive Producer.

They initially struggle in the tournament.  But then, as in all good sports movies, they find a winning formula and put themselves in a position where they can reach the final at Lord’s by winning their last match.  To find out what happens, you’ll have to watch the film.

“the Warriors choose to use their fame to make a difference, using it … to speak out against the traditional tribal practices they consider to be harmful”

Suffice to say, the Warriors return home with newfound respect in the eyes of their community.  And they don’t rest on their laurels: instead, they use their improved standing to persuade the elders to do away with FGM.  As the film ends, we find a community more united,  in which girls are as optimistic about their futures as the boys who now teach them cricket.

Together with beautifully shot cinematography – capturing the essence of the Great Rift Valley and the unique charm of the Maasai tribe – ‘Warriors’ benefits from a lively score assisted by contributions from Noel Gallacher, East India Youth and Cosmo (featuring Felix White from The Maccabees).  No wonder the film received so much praise when it was released in cinemas.

And it’s to be hoped that it performs at least as well when released on DVD and digital platforms from Monday 25th January 2016.  Not least because, as part of the film’s #WakeTheLion campaign, 45% of any profits will be used to create an education centre for young people in the region to help them learn even more about their health, rights and cricket.

The Warriors continue to use their cricketing fame to promote good causes, including the fight against FGM and HIV/AIDS.

“As the film ends, we find a community more united, in which girls are as optimistic about their futures as the boys who now teach them cricket.”

Is it a perfect piece of work?  As you’d expect from a directorial debut, not quite.  Having focused so much on FGM, this thread becomes a little frayed in London when the film starts to prioritise the sort of zero-to-hero journey seen in ‘Dodgeball’ or ‘Cool Runnings’ over any real coverage of how FGM is addressed during the trip.

Is it something you’d watch time and again to discover hidden gems?  Perhaps not, but it’s an excellent film to have in your collection as a tonic to dilute some of the heaviness in the world today.  Because, more than anything, ‘Warriors’ celebrates what can happen when communities fuse the best values that tradition and modernity offer, keeping the good parts and doing away with the bad.

And this isn’t a patronising piece of cinema, trying to tell the Maasai what they’ve been doing wrong all this time: Douglas leaves us with a strong impression that learning should flow both ways, treating us to valuable Maasai insights on how to approach adversity (a Warrior can always find peace by “listening to the murmuring of the water, listening to the birds, … [being] close to the animals and nature”), sport (the smiles of enjoyment, even in defeat, stay with you long after the film ends) and community (as their mothers, sisters and daughters had no voice, the Warriors decided to speak for them).

Seen this way, the Warriors don’t just become role models for members of the Maasai community.  Over the course of the film, they become role models for us all.

‘Warriors’ is available on DVD and iTunes from Monday 25th January 2016

Running time: 84 mins

Cert: 12

Directed by: Barney Douglas

For more discussion of the film, please see our Q&A with Director Barney Douglas.

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