“There are very few rules in existence. The main ones are:
Committing murder or manslaughter is prohibited…”
~ Wikipedia, “Royal Shrovetide Football”
Interview by Alissa
June 29, 2012
“The Rules of the Game”, a documentary produced, directed, and edited by British filmmaker Joanne Postlewaite, won Best of Show and Best Documentary Film at this year’s Interrobang Film Festival. The film chronicles the highly unusual Royal Shrovetide Football Match, an intensely competitive game – part football, part rugby, part free-for-all - played annually in the town of Ashbourne in Derbyshire, England. Lasting two days, Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday, the game has over 5,000 players attempting to score and protect goals that are three miles apart.
Steeped in tradition and fiercely protected by the town, the event has been a relative mystery to the outside world until captured by Postlewaite and crew in 2011. The filmmaker managed not only to gain entrée into this tightly knit enclave, but also was able to paint a compelling picture of the value of loyalty, tradition, and community pride.
Alissa Sheldon: How did you learn about the Royal Shrovetide Football game? What sparked you to pursue the project?
Joanne Postlewaite: We wanted to start a series of documentaries about unusual events, and just kind of came across it. It was the craziest thing in the U.K. that we could find. Not many people outside of the town know about it.
AS: I notice one of the first rules of the game is that murder is prohibited. Were you ever concerned for your safety during filming of the project?
JP: Well, people do get hurt, obviously. It’s a rough and tough game. But really none of us were really worried. (laughs) Well, some of the crew were worried. They were really quite pensive when they saw 5,000 people come running down the road. But they were pretty careful of us and were kind and sort of helped us up if we got knocked down.
AS: What challenges did you face in the course of this project?
JP: At first the people in the town didn’t really want to talk about it. They were very skeptical about doing the film. They were a bit worried about health and safety - that if they got too many spectators it might get too dangerous. They really wanted it to just be the players, no spectators. But we spent a lot of time chatting with the local men in the pubs, and they came to trust us, so we managed to find the story of the game and we did our best to tell it.
And other than the obvious physical challenges of the project, when it came time to edit, we had so much footage and so many files, sorting them out and putting the story together was a bit difficult.
AS: You were basically shooting live action that covered a span of three miles. How did you arrange to have camera coverage of such a broad expanse of area?
JP: Well, we didn’t really have enough cameras to have people at both goals, so to get those shots, we had a “Goal Team” in a vehicle, but they still had to beat the runners. Runners could get there in eight minutes, but we were trying to drive the country roads, and then there was one goal we couldn’t get right up to.
Things could change quickly, so we could spend hours near one goal, then it could change and eight minutes later we would have to be at the other goal, three miles away. We learned who the players were and we learned to follow them.
There are no lights allowed in the game, only at the goal, and at night they would play in the pitch dark. I once saw two players run off to the side away from the crowd, so I followed them with the camera. It occurred to me after a few minutes, that I had to keep up with them or I would be stranded by myself in the middle of the countryside in the dark. I never knew how fast I could run.
AS: Has the town seen the film? What was their reaction?
JP: Yes, we had the premiere screening there, and they really loved it. I was nervous, because they had been a bit wary about the film being made, because they were concerned about how we were going to portray this tradition of theirs. They really just wanted to protect the game.
Of course, at the premiere screening, which we held in Ashbourne, the largest player in the town was sitting next to me, and I thought, “Oh, he’d better like it!”. I was actually very nervous about that, but he really enjoyed it.
I think in the end they saw that we didn’t center on the negative, or try to make it look like some sort of mania, because that’s not really what we found as we filmed. We found they had a great sense of humor and a long standing tradition.
AS: What are you working on next?
JP: I’d like to do a film about a very strange mining town in Australia. We are working on getting funding together for that project.
AS: And how have you enjoyed your time in Des Moines?
JP: The people have been incredibly lovely – very friendly, and we’ve even been taken out to dinner by strangers. We loved the East Village – especially the Locust Tap and Hill Vintage - and the Arts Festival was fantastic. But mainly the people. They’ve been really lovely… And we’re not just saying that.
Other winners at this year’s Interrobang Film Festival were:
Student Filmmaker Award ($200) Also, Best Short Film
“Live Outside the Box”
Simon is a workaholic without any social contact. Gradually his world becomes smaller and smaller and at the very end, there is nothing left in his world but his work. This severe impact finally wakes him up and now Simon has to find the right way to bring his life back before everything is too late…
Best Iowa Filmmaker Award ($200)
“Man of Deeds”
Born into the chaos of the French Revolution, Mathias Loras would come to develop a vision for a state of spirituality in the New World that few dare dream. Brought up in an elegant, bourgeois family, he would eventually become a missionary assigned to a remote outpost in the frontier territory of Iowa. There he would sow the seeds of the church to rough miners and farmers, while battling the unending hardships of life on edge of civilization.
Honorable Mention go to the following top of their categories:
Best Feature Film
“Searching for Sonny”
Best Mid Film
Best Free Form/Music Video
“A House, A Home”
Best Animated Film
“Prayers for Peace”