A gay hooligan may sound like an oxymoron, but it's not. Dutch filmmaker Jan-Dirk Bouw took on this touchy issue in his latest documentary, using special techniques to ensure anonymity. He tells DW about his daring film.
"I Love Hooligans" won the short-film prize at this year's 11mm Football Film Festival in Berlin. Tell us about the genesis of the project. How on earth did you ever find the protagonist - a homosexual football hooligan?
Jan-Dirk Bouw: Well, when I started researching the topic of homosexuality in soccer, I talked to a lot of people, including an amateur gay soccer player. He told me about this gay hooligan he knew. I was intrigued because I would never have combined these two worlds. The gay player sent me an Internet forum to check out, and I sent the gay hooligan a message. We started meeting up and having beers.
So how long did you know your protagonist before you asked him if he'd be the subject of a documentary film?
I was pretty straight to the point. I asked him straight away if we could talk about his situation, and he said sure. When I told him I was making a documentary, he said that he and his club needed to stay anonymous for safety reasons. I thought, well, that's that. But then I hit upon the idea of animating the film. I showed my protagonist the animated documentary "Waltz with Bashir," and his reaction was quite positive. It still took a couple of chats to convince him, but he felt an urgent need to tell his story. He wants to start a dialogue with other people about homosexuality in soccer. It was also a chance for him to reflect on his own life.
So the protagonist had to remain anonymous to protect his safety. Nonetheless, "I Love Hooligans" is very realistic, almost as if you shot a normal documentary and then animated over it. How did you make the film?
You figured it out. I took a photo camera around first, and then some professional film cameras. I shot a lot of material on a spy cam, a helmet camera. I hid it in my jacket. Then an editor made a full edited film for the animators to animate over. We also worked with an actor, taking some of the features of the actor to disguise the identity of the protagonist.
The voice in the film is the voice of the protagonist, but it's pitched somewhat to conceal his identity. That was interesting technically. I didn't want a Mickey Mouse voice. I wanted something realistic. In the end, the weakness of having to animate the film became our greatest strength.
The protagonist in the film is extremely lonely. Is that because he's a gay hooligan or just because he's a hooligan?
I think the average football hooligan who's straight and has a girlfriend isn't as lonely as my protagonist. When I walked into his apartment, I could really feel the loneliness. You could sense it in the details of how he lived, the things that got neglected in his daily routine.
You shot scenes not only in the protagonist's apartment, but in the terraces of the football stadium and in the hooligans' clubhouse after matches? Did you ever feel scared?
The first time I went to the clubhouse, I thought, this is such a different world than the one I'm used to. But I was more intrigued than scared. The same was true with the football stadium. I'm not actually that much of a soccer fan so it was something new to feel the adrenaline to be standing amidst so many men, so many hooligans. But I wasn't really scared. Intrigued more than anything.
What is the hooligan scene in Holland like? How big is it?
It's a pretty big thing, although things used to get far more out of hand. The laws have changed to keep supporters separated from one another during matches. But as the protagonist says, "You can always win the match after the game." So some fans do still go out of their way to get in fights.
When do you think the first active homosexual players will come out? And how important - or not important - is it for gay athletes to publicly acknowledge their sexual orientation?
Robbie Rogers from the LA Galaxy in the United States came out a while ago. And there was a Swedish player [Anton Hysén] a few years ago, although he had some problems, particularly with the national team, I think. I think it's quite urgent that people come out. That would help a lot of people who are struggling. It's a shame that it's such a closeted type of topic. On the other hand, though, I understand why some players don't do it. Their market value could drop, and the group dynamics within teams could be affected as well when someone is gay. It's a very difficult situation.