IN LA PAZ, BOLIVIA, two Americans—Luke and Gwendolyn—stand outside the foreboding San Pedro Prison armed with a soccer ball and 3,000 bolivianos, or about $400. Having heard that the San Pedro games are among the best and most competitive in town, the two ex-college soccer players are attempting to bribe their way inside the prison to play a pick-up game against robbers, drug runners, and murderers. When the guard asks incredulously, "You're going in?"—neither hesitates. They go. They play. They even score a couple of goals, and no one gets shivved.
Pelada, meaning "naked" in Portuguese, is a documentary made by four soccer-loving friends—Luke Boughen and Gwendolyn Oxenham as guides, with Rebekah Fergusson and Ryan White documenting them. The tale takes them all on a yearlong journey across the globe in search of the most stripped-down or basic form of soccer—the pick-up game.
Along with the aforementioned prison match, the sports sojourn pulls them to numerous random locales, from the 2008 European Football Championship in Austria, to a Nairobi slum (where they play in a makeshift tournament on a field converted from a trash heap), to a gathering of players who combine elements of tai chi, freestyling, and street soccer in Shanghai, and finally to Tehran, where they almost have all their footage confiscated after Gwendolyn plays a game in her hijab.
While Luke and Gwendolyn's own search for what to do with their lives after playing organized soccer can sometimes feel overly ponderous, there's no denying the fascinating personal tales and footy-mad personalities they unlock from continent to continent. It's not just about bright lights, big crowds, and glory, but rather the fact that the simpler the game, the greater the reward.