New documentary uses sports to figure out what it means to be American

Tuesday November 18th, 2014

New documentary Welcome to Unity looks at a group of teenage exchange students in rural Unity, Ore., and how they acclimate to their strange new surroundings, especially through their role in what may just be the most rag tag football team ever captured on film.

Filmmaker Katherine Mahalic told Sports Illustrated she first heard of Unity's Burnt River High School as part of an NPR story, and originally intended for the tale of seven foreign exchange student's living with one host family to focus entirely on the boys learning to play for the school's eight-man football team.

"Once I got up to Unity I loved the entire idea of the exchange students bonding over football and simultaneously learning the American rural life-style."

Watching the students, who came to Unity from places as disparate as Kyrgyzstan, Serbia and China, learn to handle American life in the film is touching and hilarious in equal measure, as the group learns how to brand cattle, eats Rocky Mountain oysters, and participates in a game of donkey basketball, which is exactly what it sounds like.

Mahalic has taken the film to several festivals and recently won both the Adult and Children's Jury Prize for documentary film at the Chicago International Children's Film Festival. 

The filmmakers have launched a Kickstarter campaign to secure final funding to continue post-production on the film.

Brendan Maloy

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