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Regional Interests

New documentary follows Hood River high school soccer team

Soccer

Many people think of Hood River as a place for windsurfing. But soccer may actually be the sport the community cares about the most. A new documentary, “Hood River,” follows the 2018 Hood River Valley High School boys soccer team as they attempt to win the state championship and forge a bond across cultural divides. We’ll hear from the director of the documentary, Jono Field, and Jaime Rivera, the coach of the soccer team.

This transcript was created by a computer and edited by a volunteer.

Dave Miller: This is Think Out Loud on OPB, I’m Dave Miller. A new documentary follows the 2018 Hood River Valley High School boys soccer team as they attempt to win a state championship, and forge bonds across cultural and class divides. It’s called Hood River, it will be available in select theaters and on iTunes next month. Jono Field is one of the directors of the film. Jaime Rivera is in his 12th year as the coach of the team. I talked to both of them on Friday. I asked Field how he chose to focus on Hood River:

Jono Field: We were pitched this story by Robert Rodriguez, who had picked a number of locations as an interest in sort of doing a documentary about the political and cultural divide in the US, and we thought Hood River was was great mean cinematically it’s a beautiful town, and in terms of telling a story between two different groups of people. We thought it was stunning, the characters were incredible, and there were a lot of really interesting people that we were able to talk with, and relationships were very simple and fluid from the moment we got there till the moment we finished.

Miller: I imagine, Jaime Rivera, that part of the issue here is: will you allow filmmakers to follow you and your players and to be around you for a big chunk of time? Obviously, you said yes because there’s a movie, but why did you say yes?

Jaime Rivera: As an educational-based athletics coach, our view of sport is a little bit different than the club coach, and certainly at the professional level. We really are more character based, and obviously academically based coaching philosophies lead us to thinking about what these, in my case young men, what their lives are gonna hold after high school. I didn’t get that kind of coaching when I was young, and now that I’m in my 12th year as head coach of Hood River Valley, I know how important it is to plan ahead for the future.

In this case, helping young student athletes achieve post secondary education through sport is really the main objective. And if we had something to highlight our athletes, and to kind of create buzz around our program to be able to give this as a chance, to to make it to the next level, that really was the reason behind it. And to highlight  our beautiful community. Like Joho said, I don’t know that you can find a more beautiful place in the northwest.

Miller: Jono, how did you decide who to focus on? There are, depending on how you slice it, two or three or four main characters. How did you decide that?

Field: Originally, when we came to Hood River and sort of met the team, we did a kind of a casting overview. So we had basically a rough breakdown in every character on the team, including the coach-

Miller: Every actual human person on the team, who you are gonna call characters.

Field: Yeah, it’s difficult to draw the line sometimes. We went into Hood River and had already sort of a breakdown of everybody who was on the team. It was quite simple and vague, “where were you born, what’s your favorite music, what position do you play, what you want to be when you grow up.” Those sorts of preliminary questions gave us a bit more of an insight when we went to meet people, that was sort of the talking points. We started by putting a camera in front of them and just sort of going over a couple of questions and getting to know them a bit better. Two or three characters stood out to me very easily. But the person who made the most impression on me was actually Domingo’s mother, who was sort of off to the side when we were talking with Domingo. Domingo is dealing with the deportation of his father in an ICE facility, and just to see the raw human emotion that was going through his family, and how that was sort of shaking up his confidence. Just the dynamic between him and his mother and his brother, it was jarring, in a way, and it was very obvious that that was an emotional angle that we really had to lean into.

Very, very early on we wanted to focus on Domingo’s family. And Erik Siekkinen, the captain of the team, I think I saw a lot of people I went to high school with in him. A lot of my friends. And it was very easy to relate to him, and see how he was trying to be a leader on the team and the struggles of being a captain. They’re all phenomenally talented soccer players, but just how dynamic and how rich these lives were and how they contrasted from each other was sort of like an ongoing process. So as we got to know certain people, we sort of tried to engage their story more and have a bit more of an insight into what the team and what the town and their life and family meant to them, and it sort of went naturally from there.

Miller: Let’s listen to a scene from the movie. We’re going to hear two seniors, Saul Chavarria and Lodi Castillo talking about class and racial divisions in the town, and then you can also make the short leap, to also on the team.

Lodi Castillo: Hood River, it’s either one of two ways. You just work hard, worrying about the next bill, worrying about the next payment, or you live in Hood River, and then you’re worrying about the next biking trip for the next ski trip. It’s a good place to live if you have money,

Saul Chavarria: Most of white kids, they’ll just be like “Where are you going for, like Thanksgiving break?” We’re staying here, man. We’re not going anywhere. And like all of them go to like freaking Park City or like Whistler and all that stuff, and it’s cool, and like they all go to the mountains and stuff, but we just hang around here and play footy.

Castillo: If you don’t know anyone here in Hood River and you don’t have money, then you’re kind of like just here.

Miller: Jaime Rivera, how do you think about and deal with those divisions, those class divisions that, to some extent, are tied to racial divisions? How do you think about those as a coach? One of the key facts about your team is that it’s divided, there are white kids and there are Mexican-American kids.

Rivera: For me having grown up in Hood River as well, I was born and raised here in Hood River County, but I’ve had the chance to live away from here. And having come back and then getting into coaching, I’ve realized the power of sport. I know we hear about it and we talk about it, but we actually get to live it here, here in Hood River County. Like you said, it is a very diverse community. The makeup of our program is probably 60% Mexican and probably about 40% Anglo-American. That’s the reality of our student body.

And so for me, to be honest, I don’t really draw any direct attention to that. I believe that our unifying factor, in this case, is soccer, and what values we can share and believe in together to accomplish great things on the field and in the classroom, that’s really the focus. My job is to make sport and competition and goals the driving force behind our program. And I’ll be honest, race and the division is really a side point. I feel like we’re leaders in our community and at the state level in terms of focusing on the important things that that sport can provide, like I mentioned before, opportunities for these students to look past those barriers and achieve great things like post-secondary education.

Miller: One of the really fascinating themes in the movie, which is particularly present in a couple of scenes, is watching boys talk about how to be leaders. I’m curious how you think about when you need to step in as the adult, as the coach, and when it’s better for you to let the older players, the natural or the appointed leaders on the team, step up themselves and lead each other?

Rivera: That really is leadership in our era now. It’s what I would call shared leadership. We’re working those things out right now, in our current season. We just got tryouts taken care of last week, and we’re now practicing officially for our 2021 season. And so that’s the process that we’re trying to work out right now. We have 2 captains that have been appointed as leaders of the program, and I’m working with them right now to design what our season is going to look like.

Miller: What are those conversations like with your, with your newly chosen captains, what do you tell them?

Rivera: I ask them for their perspective on everything, from “Hey, tell me what is the perfect season for you? If you could choose how things went and the result to the end, what’s that going to look like?”

Miller: And when you ask that, I imagine you mean everyone wants to win a state championship, right? So I imagine it’s not just about winning? Or is it?

Rivera: Yeah, winning is the objective all the time. We’ve done a lot of winning here, at Hood River Valley.

Miller: You’ve won two state championships in the last decade, is that right?

Rivera: Yeah, we played for three consecutive state championships from 2013 to 2016. And those were certainly memorable times that got us used to winning. And that mentality has always been there, really, at Hood River Valley, since the early 2000s. But where we are now,

we have different perspectives on things because of, I think, because of my leadership. I’m a father now, I wasn’t a father when we were winning our state titles. We were just having kids, me and my wife. I realize now that I’m coaching other people’s babies, like I see my babies, and how important the coach’s role in young men’s lives can be.

So certainly winning is obviously important, and we talk about those things in our goals, but right now, we’re not talking about winning. We’re talking about who are the players that are gonna help our roster, right? What should that look like? Our player makeup, or the roles on our team, who’s gonna fill those? How hard are we going to push ourselves and each other, on the field and off the field? How accountable are we going to be to each other? Can we all agree to these set of norms and these values, right? That’s really where we are right now, I think it’s the foundation of a great program.

Miller: Jono Field, you mentioned briefly, but it’s worth returning back to this. The emotional low point in the film, and really the biggest event that happens in the film to a great extent, is that one of the players’ fathers, Domingo Barragan’s father, he is pulled over for a traffic violation of some kind and taken to an immigration jail, and then deported. You’re in this strange situation as a filmmaker, where perhaps the worst thing that ever happened to this young man is what creates the biggest narrative force in your documentary. I’m curious how you think about that tension?

Field: That’s a great question. I remember when Domingo told us that his father was going to have his hearing. It was about 1AM, and at 4AM he was planning on leaving to drive to Seattle. So I asked if it was okay to come, and he said, “Yeah, with my blessing.” I think a lot of it had come down to getting to know him and his family, and just sort of being there and hanging out a bit, me not knowing Spanish, shame on me. We were able to sort of get to know his family. We never met his dad until we actually went to the detention facility. We weren’t really allowed to bring cameras in, but we were able to get some access to the emotion of the events that unfolded since then.

There was a lot of “Should we shoot this? Should we not shoot that?” There’s a lot of sort of ethics in what we were doing and what we weren’t doing. But we made it very clear to Domingo if there were times where you wanted us to call back, we absolutely understand. We gave him as much time as he wanted with his family. I think he got to the point with his family that it was sort of a story they wanted to tell, a story that they felt comfortable saying. A lot of these processes are done sort of somewhat clandestinely, people sort of vanish and disappear. And you hear just statistics on the news of people being deported. But it’s very difficult to put an emotional story to one of these statistics.

Domingo, he and I shared that perspective, and I think his mother did as well. We sort of trod around it and were as gentle as possible, and we didn’t want to make them feel uncomfortable. But there was a time I remember, when we went to the house after his dad was deported, and it was very- our filmmaking style of our company, Stick Figures, is very veritae, and very “hold back and just let things unfold” rather than interject too much and try and direct anything. We’re very fly on the wall. I think that’s just from sort of years of doing this the same way, being very formulaic, but also developing a relationship is a crucial part of that to try and understand when you can and can’t do things.

Miller: Jaime Rivera, what do you see as your role as a coach, when something so much bigger and obviously more important than soccer, more important than sport, the breaking up of a family, when something like that happens to one of your players? What’s your role as a coach?

Rivera: The trust that our athletes had in their crew, and I’ll even back up to the trust that I… if I’m able to create that kind of a trust where an athlete can talk to me about personal issues, that is very sacred to me. And I was fortunate enough to be able to build that kind of relationship with Domingo. But I’ll never forget that time, because of those relationships that we were able to forge. In this case with Domingo, I felt like his father after. Not like his father, but I felt like that was the role I was playing after his father got deported. It was daily interactions and weekend interactions. And man, it was really touching at times, but very sad as well. I just… I feel very fortunate to be able to help in any way I can. Emotionally, more than anything.That was my role.

Miller: Jono Field, you’re talking to us from Brooklyn. Do you still root for the Hood River Valley Eagles?

Field: Oh yeah, I follow them on Instagram. I’m still checking in and finding out what’s going on. It’s strange, we premiered it at South by Southwest, which got canceled two days before it was supposed to go live. So it’s been this sort of bizarre buffer period where we’ve been trying to shoot things remotely. But this has sort of been on the top of my mind since we finished editing. Yeah, it’s been hard to get Hood River out of my head. I’ve been meaning to take a trip down there as soon as I can to get some air. Sitting in Brooklyn, it’s not quite the same as having nice mountains and trees everywhere around you.

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