Director: Eammon Ashton-Atkinson
Courtesy Of: Eammon Ashton-Atkinson | Australian Showcase | Documentary | Gay | Sports | Unclassified 15+ | 80 Mins | UK | 2020
When journalist Eammon Ashton-Atkinson fled Australia and moved to London to escape depression – a struggle exacerbated by his battle with his sexuality and a traumatic outing during high school – he found his salvation in the Kings Cross Steelers. Formed in 1995, the Steelers were one of the first gay rugby clubs in London. More than that, this club became a sanctuary of sorts for the disparate group of gay men from all around the world, finding a home to excel in a game they love and to celebrate their sexuality. Directed by Ashton-Atkinson, this inspiring and emotional documentary takes an intimate look into the lives of the various team members (including their fierce lesbian club director) as they grapple with their own demons, overcome adversary and do a little drag, all the while competing for the Bingham World Cup in Amsterdam. This is a heartwarming story about finding your tribe and the protective shield of a gay rugby scrum.
“For me, this isn’t just a story about being gay, it’s not even a story about playing rugby,” filmmaker and Steelers player Eammon Ashton-Atkinson explains during the introduction of his documentary. “It’s a story about struggle, acceptance, searching for happiness, and finding a place to belong.” This statement of intent perfectly captures the essence of Ashton-Atkinson’s triumphant debut.
While Steelers: The World’s First Gay and Inclusive Rugby Club anchors itself around the titular King’s Cross Steelers’ efforts to win the Bingham Cup (the World Cup of the Gay rugby community), this is never the focus. Instead, the filmmaker highlights a small selection of subjects and gives them the space to discuss their own personal journeys and how rugby has helped them get to where they are. Though the project features only three figures (players Simon and Drew alongside Nic, the team’s fiery coach), their tales are so compelling and heartwarming that adding anything else would be overkill and detract from what already makes this flick work so well.
The spotlight predominately remains on a handful of Steelers, but the rest of the team’s vibrant personalities also shine through. Whenever the narrative isn’t concerning itself with the key players or showing highlights from one of their tournament games, Ashton-Atkinson is happy to let the camera roll during the team’s downtime. Easily the most entertaining segments, these moments of play and relaxation are where the true meaning of acceptance and happiness is understood – not just amongst the Steelers teammates, but as a deep-rooted connection felt between each of the international teams competing, even if rival tensions do boil over occasionally. The joy and passion displayed on-screen is infectious, from the spontaneous banter between players to the fervent pep talks.
Viewers accompany the team through the euphoric highs and frustrating lows of their tournament journey. Whether they win or lose, just playing in a Gay rugby tournament means everything. To them, this is more than rugby, and Steelers tells audiences exactly why that is in this emotive, personal, and uplifting documentary.
– Andrew Murray, The Up Coming
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