Rugby, Sexuality and Independent Filmmaking

Published September 24, 2015

Crossing The Line is an innovative season of film events, documentaries, shorts and artists’ films to test ethical and physical boundaries and reveal astonishing stories of achievement.

Ahead of our Crossing The Line screening of Scrum, the team at Studio 74 interviewed the film’s director, Poppy Stockwell.

What prompted you to make this film? How did you discover the story?

I worked on a documentary about the Convicts in 2006 on their first ever Bingham Cup campaign to New York so when the club won the right to host the Bingham Cup in Sydney last year, I jumped at the chance to make another film. I discovered the story of Scrum by going to trainings Tuesdays and Thursday and then the games on Saturday and hanging around and chatting with the players months before the Bingham Cup tournament. I knew I wanted to follow the Convict A team because they had the most at stake, everyone’s hope were pinned on them to win the Cup.

After speaking with Aki, the Japanese player, I instantly knew I wanted to work with him to share his story but he took a bit of convincing…Brennan, the self assured Canadian seemed like a fantastic contrasting character to shy Aki and then I found out that Brennan and Aki were in competition for the same position on the team – bingo! Charlie the coach was a natural character to follow because the whole team revolves around him and Pearce, the Irish backpacker, was impossible not to include because of his personal journey through joining the club and going to Bingham was a film makers dream. Plus he’s an absolute laugh.

The film will screen at Studio 74 during the Rugby World Cup, yet one of the first lines of voiceover in Scrum states “its not just rugby” – what is Scrum really about?

Scrum isn’t really about rugby at all. The film is really about brotherhood and the importance of finding your tribe, being accepted for who you are and having the opportunity to be a part of something bigger than yourself.

In Scrum you gained access to remarkably intimate scenes between the team members and in individuals lives/homes. As a Director, how did you feel being present in these moments? What impact do you think your presence had on them?

To witness and record these moments as a director is always a privilege and an honour. I work hard to create meaningful relationships between myself and the people sharing their stories, so I’m always humbled when they feel safe enough to share their vulnerabilities and wounds. I’m my presence in some of the scenes was a catalyst to open up but other scenes such as the locker room – I doubt I had any affect.

What is your favourite moment from the shoot of the film?

Three moments:

1) The Aboriginal players perform a the ‘Baru’ (crocodile) dance with members of the Bangarra Dance Theatre at the Bingham Cup Welcome party. They had all been rehearsing for weeks and the performance was just awesome.

2) Pearse pushing through his physical exhaustion in the quarter finals and then having a meltdown on the sideline.

3) The final locker room scene.

Scrum highlights the challenges the team members have encountered in seeking acceptance within their field. How does this transfer to your experience of working in the film industry as a gay, female director?

There are loads of lesbians working in the film and television industry thankfully! I think the Arts has a much more inclusive landscape than the sporting arena. Having said that, there is still a huge disparity between the number of female directors compared to male directors working in the industry.

The Exeter Phoenix Digital team first enjoyed Scrum at Sheffield Doc/Fest 2015 – what are the challenges of getting documentaries about sexuality into mainstream film festivals and distribution? Do you believe there still a marginalization of films that tackle this topic in Australia? And other countries?

Interestingly Scrum, in terms of festival invitations, has had fair greater success outside Australia than on home soil. Why? I can only speculate. There seems to be a appetite for well made LGBTI films around the world, I guess breaking through to mainstream media channels is the real challenge. I think there is still marginalization of films that tackle this topic, especially in Australia. Luckily our dreadful, queer hating Prime Minister was ousted last night, we can only hope the new guy has a greater understanding of basic human rights.

Why have you chosen to develop your career through documentary? What is special about this form of filmmaking?

I suppose I initially gravitated towards documentary because of it’s accessibility, unlike fiction you don’t need a massive crew or even a small crew to make a film, you just need a camera, a good microphone and a computer. And of course real life is completely magical – truth really is stranger than fiction. Now I exploring narrative fiction and am currently developing a dramedy series. It’s all story telling right?

What one piece of advice would you give to emerging filmmakers?

Don’t wait for permission to make a film. Grab a camera and start shooting, even your smartphone will do. Better still grab a couple of mates that are equally as passionate as you, form a peleton and help each other. Don’t worry about perfection, get off the block and starting rolling!

Scrum event page here >>