Short & Sweet: "First Down"
AFf documentary short tackles girls breaking into football
By Richard Whittaker,
11:45AM, Tue. Oct. 26, 2021
Welcome to Short and Sweet, our look at short films playing at film festivals in Austin. This time it's "First Down," the new documentary short by filmmaker Carrie Stett about the Utah Girls Tackle Football League, and how being able to play a traditionally male-dominated sport has helped young women, especially those living with deep trauma.
Austin Chronicle: How did you first find out about the league?
Carrie Stett: I found out about the UGTFL a couple of years ago and reached out to them. I was researching a documentary on Title IX and had read about the lawsuit they had against their school district to get girl’s tackle football into schools.
AC: Early on, coach Crys explains he is transitioning, and that becomes a core part of the short's theme of self-acceptance. How did his speech to the team affect the documentary?
CS: Crys’ speech to the team was his first time seeing everyone that season and he was really nervous about it. I had not expected this to be part of the story, but being there was a pivotal moment because I saw how much it meant to him and to the girls to see him be true to himself. After spending more time with the players, I discovered that they were all grappling with self-acceptance in their own way. These young women are at a pivotal age in life when they are finding out who they truly are. It’s incredible to see how playing this sport has given them so much — a sport even some of their friends and family think they shouldn’t be playing. Even when they had never won a game, it had been transforming their lives.
AC: Some of the players are carrying some pretty deep trauma: how did you get them to open up for the camera?
CS: I was an athlete in high school and college, and I know it helped me in more ways than I can count. I told them about my background and my vision for this project, that I wanted to show the world that girls want to play football and to empower other young women to believe they can do anything. I took care to build trust with them and let them know they were not obligated to share anything they didn’t feel comfortable with. I think ultimately they were glad to have someone care about their stories.
AC: The other story around the UGTFL this year was the lawsuit filed against Utah schools alleging Title IX violations. Have you had any word on how the ruling affected the players?
CSThe ruling was disheartening to the players. And particularly to Crys. Many of the league’s players have also played on boy’s teams and had bad experiences because of harassment or coaches and players treating them like they don’t belong. The physicality in high school changes, so girls do need teams of their own. Having them be part of the school system, to be able to play for one's school and the resources that go with it, would help build the infrastructure needed to grow the sport. With the fiftieth anniversary of Title IX next year, it seems like we still have a long way to go. They feel like tackle football is the sport Title IX left behind. Crys is not letting that stop him, though. He’s still working hard to build more teams and help other states do the same.
"First Down" plays as part of Shorts Program 14: Doc Shorts 2
Tue. Oct. 26, 1pm, Galaxy Highland
Austin Film Festival, Oct. 21-28. Find all our news, reviews, and interviews at austinchronicle.com/austin-film-festival.