by Tori P. Haynesworth
High school football players out of Salt Lake City huddle together before the game begins, reciting a Polynesian chant to pump the adrenaline in their young bodies to get a win. Stakes are high of making it after high school to be recruited by a college team, and then after that, stepping into the spotlight of the NFL.
For the 240,000 Samoans and Polynesians that reside in Utah, parents and loved ones are only hopeful that their son, brother or nephew lands that golden opportunity. Football is what they have; it’s their drive for a better life.
Inside Huber Theatre on the campus of Salem College on Jan.13, 36 people were engrossed in the screening of In Football We Trust, directed by Tony Vainuku and Erika Cohn. The film focuses on four Polynesian men, capturing their lives on and off the football field.
Fihi Kafusi of Highland High School balances his time between football and his Mormon faith. Harvey Langi of Bingham High School has the pressure of earning football scholarships and hopes of making it to the NFL. Brothers Tevita and Leva Bloomfield go through personal struggles and gang violence, while keeping their love of the game alive and looking out for one another.
All four young men live in an overcrowded home with parents and many siblings. Besides football, they value their families, and will do anything to help and provide in the households — even it costs them their chance to impress college and NFL recruits.
Indie Lens Pop Up, presented by RiverRun International Film Festival “Films with Class” program, is a neighborhood screening series that brings people together for community-driven conversations around films from the award-winning PBS series “Independent Lens.”
Jane McKim, community director of RiverRun, said In Football We Trust is an eye-opener to the Polynesian culture.
“These films all touch on issues that are out there,” she said. “Social justice issues, population issues, economic and scientific issues. There are all type of issues that are affecting us in our culture in this day and age. What they do is bring audiences together to learn about the topic and talk about the topic and see what we can do to raise awareness and work on it.”
Pat Crowley, head football coach of RJ Reynolds High School, said he relates to the coaches in the documentary. There’s more to being a coach just in the football field, he said. There’s being a coach to life itself.
“The struggles that they face [Polynesian players] are replicated in almost every area in the United States,” Crowley said. “You have kids that have a lot of negative influences in their life, they don’t have great role models, some have lack of structure and don’t have great priorities. In a sport like football, I think it’s a great way of giving kids something to be a part of, rather than being in a gang, or be with a group of guys that are doing something that will lead them down the wrong path.”
The Polynesian teens in the film struggle to internalize the lessons. One scene depicts a counselor trying to convince Leva that he needs to do better in his academics. In another scene, Fihi, who doesn’t really care for academics, knows that the coaches have zero tolerance for bad grades, so he does what he can to maintain a steady average.
Vainuku shows both sides of the spectrum of how the teens’ surroundings can make an impact, like when Fihi’s mother makes sure the boys attend church every week. Then several scenes later Tevita and Leva’s father speaks about his family heavily involved in gang relations and how football steered him out of that kind of trouble.
This film can make a person open up to see what one can do to make a difference in a young person’s life who sees that negative atmosphere every day.