The Railroad All-Stars

The Railroad All-Stars


Reviewed by: Chris

The Railroad All-stars are a group of sex-workers in Guatemala - the lowest of the low, working for around $2 a time. They are regularly harassed, attacked and murdered with impunity, so the idea of forming a football team to draw attention to their plight has got to be a better alternative. This film is full of heart-warming moments, shows the women's perseverance in the face of prejudice and ridicule, and includes some nice shots of Mayan ruins. And it's unusual.

The movie glosses over where the idea for the team came from - and the film backers seem the more likely suspects - but this is not necessarily worrying if they achieve some good. The idea attracts attention, and these particular women don't have pimps, so reprisals seem unlikely. The worst scenario is perhaps hopes raised and then dashed.

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Guatemala City has a ghetto area next to the railroad cutting through the town. Here the women ply their trade. Many of them are coarsely-spoken and built more like rugby players than athletic football stars, but one or two are well-spoken and have some education and refinement, even if they are living in horrific squalor. Textbook tales of childhood abuse, violence from men or rape are told with tears streaming down their faces. "Before we are prostitutes we are women and mothers," says one.

We meet some of their children who mostly seem well enough cared for and carry no shame due to their mothers' way of earning their keep. Seeing the women through the eyes of those who care about them (and for whom they care) helps us see the person inside, rather than an object of scorn and pity, opening her legs for anyone who pays. Overall, they seem a more decent bunch than the fire-and-brimstone preacher who rants at the top of his voice and adds to their feelings of worthlessness.

Reliance on appearances is further challenged when we meet Marina, a one-eyed old woman and ex-prostitute. The camera lingers on her twisted face and it is hard not to look away, especially when we are subjected to her way of talking, indicative of a long life in the gutter. We feel some pity when we learn her home has been washed away more than once, yet it is not compassion she craves but respect. Marina sells condoms at seven cents each, but soon accompanies the football team on their travels while her faithful partner stays in the ghetto.

Their first match is against a high-school team. The All-stars not only lose the game, but organisers are aghast when they find out they are prostitutes. The reaction is disproportionate however, with demands that benches are hosed down and turf changed - in case people catch Aids from the players' sweat or scraped knees.

A travel company sponsors the All-stars for a tour, and the next opponents are a team of women police officers, followed by girls from a go-go bar. Everywhere the Railroad All-stars get well thrashed - they look out of shape and, for all the film's hype, don't seem to be taking training very seriously. After several games they are still not very good at football.

A change of scenery shows the girls in a nice hotel during an away match, and then taking in the sights of ancient Mayan ruins. This is a side of their own country they have never seen, like a dream come true. Whatever the sponsoring travel company's motives, they have made good on their promise to show the Allstars some of the beauty of Guatemala.

Eventually public pressure mounts against the All-stars - and we're willing them to win by the final third.

The Railroad Allstars is one of those festival oddities that will attract TV distributors around the world. It probably hasn't made any impact on the poverty, discrimination and violence against the women concerned, but it gave them the glimpse of a different life. Could the film perhaps also be used to inform social work and government efforts to ensure progress and success for others in the position of the All-Stars? Watch this colourful film and make up your own mind.

Reviewed on: 07 Sep 2006
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The Railroad All-Stars packshot
Documentary about Guatemalan sex workers who formed a successful football team.
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Director: Chema Rodríguez

Writer: Chema Rodríguez

Year: 2006

Runtime: 90 minutes

Country: Guatemala

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