Monday, July 22, 2024

“COPA 71”

THE STORY – The pioneering footballers who participated in the 1971 Women’s World Cup tell their extraordinary story, giving insight into a tournament that witnessed record crowds but is largely written out of sporting history.

THE CAST – N/A

THE TEAM – James Erskine, Rachel Ramsay (Directors/Writers) & Victoria Gregory (Writer)

THE RUNNING TIME – 90 Minutes


The greatest moment in women’s football is one that you likely haven’t heard of. Twenty years before the first official FIFA women’s football championship was the 1971 Women’s World Cup, a dazzling display of sportsmanship organized by the Federation of Independent European Female Football. If you’re wondering how a grand event such as this, with record-breaking attendance numbers no less, has been lost to history, it’s because it was intentional – until now.

Directors James Erskine and Rachel Ramsay shed light on this monumental achievement in women’s football with their documentary, “Copa 71.” Featuring first-hand accounts from a number of the women who participated in the championship event, they spotlight how a simple sport can become a political act to fight for women’s equality and inspire generations of athletes to come.

Erskine and Ramsay waste no time setting up the importance of the 1971 Women’s World Cup. As they introduce former players from England, Denmark, Mexico, Italy, Argentina, and France, each of these women share how they loved playing football as young children but were barred from pursuing their passions because it wasn’t the place for women. England’s Carol Wilson shares that she joined the Air Force because it would give her an opportunity to play with the boys, while Mexico’s Silvia Zaragoza had to hide her love of the game whenever her father was around. It’s a storyline that has been seen time and time again in film, most recently in Disney’s “Young Woman and the Sea,” and one that continues to evoke rage.

It didn’t have to be that way: In the early 1900s, there was a real energy for women’s football because, well, women like to play sports. (Who would have thought!) But once men in power saw this, they struck it down. Doctors published articles stating that football is dangerous for women and their health, and the English Football Association threatened to ban any clubs that allowed women to use their facilities.

As a result, women’s clubs didn’t emerge until the 1960s, and playing football became a revolution in the fight for women’s equality. The most wonderful acts of defiance came in the form of women’s football tournaments, culminating with the 1971 championship in Mexico. After a successful men’s World Cup the previous year, it would have been foolish not to bring a women-oriented event to football fans. Even when FIFA tried to put an end to all of it, organizers picked stadiums that the league had no control over. Seeing archive footage from that event is unbelievable, especially as more than 100,000 spectators filled Mexico City’s Azteca Stadium.

The true highlight of “Copa 71” is hearing from the footballers what it felt like to listen to the roar of the crowd when they arrived at the tournament. Seeing them show off their skills through surprisingly good archival footage and recall tense moments from each game makes for an emotional viewing experience (the editing also deserves a lot of praise). It’s been 50 years since many of them have spoken about the event, and it’s such an honor to see them share a wide range of emotions in their interviews – some speak so highly of their fellow players, while some are still bitter about goals being disqualified. Seeing photos of them watching the games on television is even more touching – a first for women’s football. If they were inspired by watching their competitors on television, imagine what this meant for young girls and women attending the games and watching from home.

One would think this would have inspired systemic change among FIFA and other football associations, but the misogyny continued. Leading up to the final match, the Mexico team staged a holdout in an effort to be fairly compensated for playing in the tournament, for which they were met with hostility. The players were made to feel ashamed of their participation in the event when they returned home, and Wilson shared that she was mocked by a room full of men for playing the sport. The film lacks an “official” voice from any football institution, leading to a gap in the strong storytelling (historian David Goldblatt does step in to provide context and background), although it’s understandable why no one would want to address FIFA’s egregious past behavior.

Something else absent in the documentary is the view on women’s football in the United States at the time and addressing why it didn’t participate in the 1971 event. Strangely, however, the directors chose to include interviews with American players Brandi Chastain and Alex Morgan, who embarrassingly admitted they were unaware of the women’s World Cup. Without that examination of America, the interviews end up feeling out of place in an otherwise neat and tightly edited film.

Regardless of a few slips, “Copa 71” is an inspiring and exciting sports documentary that deserves to be seen by everyone. The 1971 Women’s World Cup story will inspire and delight, as well as invoke rage and sadness over the fact that this is just now being told. It may have been buried for the past half-century, but there’s no hiding it anymore, thanks to Erskine and Ramsay’s riveting and moving film.

THE RECAP

THE GOOD - Directors James Erskine and Rachel Ramsay shed light on a monumental achievement in women’s football. Interviews with players are a highlight, and great editing mixes new footage with archival materials.

THE BAD - Lacks an official voice to address the football association’s fumbles. Out-of-place inclusion of American football players while America’s views on women’s soccer are not addressed.

THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - Best Documentary Feature

THE FINAL SCORE - 8/10

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Ema Sasic
Ema Sasic
Journalist for The Desert Sun. Film critic and awards season enthusiast. Bosnian immigrant

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<b>THE GOOD - </b>Directors James Erskine and Rachel Ramsay shed light on a monumental achievement in women’s football. Interviews with players are a highlight, and great editing mixes new footage with archival materials.<br><br> <b>THE BAD - </b>Lacks an official voice to address the football association’s fumbles. Out-of-place inclusion of American football players while America’s views on women’s soccer are not addressed.<br><br> <b>THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - </b><a href="/oscar-predictions-best-documentary-feature/">Best Documentary Feature</a><br><br> <b>THE FINAL SCORE - </b>8/10<br><br>"COPA 71"