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Peter Karl in the midst of celebrations in Bogota after Colombia qualified for the World Cup on Oct. 11, 2013. | Courtesy of Peter Karl.

Wallingford resident recounts ‘amazing journey’ for film about World Cup soccer

After four months traveling through Latin America, culminating in a visit to Brazil for the World Cup, Lyman Hall High School alumnus Peter Karl returned to the United States last week. Karl and three friends from Emerson College set out April 2 to film a World Cup documentary.

“It was an amazing journey,” a travel-weary Karl said Thursday, fresh off a flight to Boston. “We were there right through the final.”

Karl, who previously worked as a journalist in Colombia, traveled to eight of the nine Latin American countries participating in the World Cup for a documentary titled “American Futbol.” He was accompanied by Sam Mathius, a writer and longtime soccer enthusiast, and Petar Madjarec, who will produce the project. Mathius and Karl will be the on-camera presenters for the feature-length film. Austin Ahlborg, a cinematographer from Emerson, also took the trip. The documentary will likely be complete sometime next year, Karl said.

While reaching Brazil for the World Cup was the end goal, the worldwide tournament will not be the centerpiece of the documentary, said Karl, who graduated from Lyman Hall High School in 2006. Rather, the tournament frames an in-depth examination of the Latin American soccer culture. Traveling south from Los Angeles, the team made stops in Mexico, Costa Rica, Colombia, Argentina, Chile, Ecuador and Uruguay before landing in Brazil.

The documentary will tell stories about “each of their own soccer cultures and how we can learn from them as a growing soccer culture,” Karl said. “We wanted to bridge a cultural gap in our countries. A great common ground to understand that is football.”

During his travels, Karl said, he fell in love with Costa Rica. After staying in the country for 10 days, “we felt like that was a place we had a connection to,” he said.

While in Salvador, Brazil, the crew attended the quarterfinal match between Netherlands and Costa Rica. At the game, Karl met up with his brother, Andrew.

“We all sat in different places,” Karl said. “I sat in the nosebleeds with my brother.”

Karl said he sat beside two Costa Rican men who started to cry after Netherlands defeated Costa Rica on penalty kicks.

“We hugged them,” Karl said. “They weren’t sad, they were proud.”

The documentary crew also attended U.S. matches against Portugal, Germany and Belgium. While in Rio de Janeiro, the crew caught the U.S. match against Ghana at the city’s fan festival on Copacabana beach, where thousands of fans flocked to enjoy the World Cup.

“It was an amazing viewing experience,” Karl said. “There were tons of Americans. We spent day after day at the fan festival filming fans.”

Footage shot by Madjarec of the crew and fans at the festival was posted to the documentary’s YouTube page. It was eventually picked up and used with permission by ESPN as promotional footage, Karl said. The network also purchased footage from World Cup matches the crew attended.

“It helped our budget and provided a good push,” Karl said.

Toward the end of the journey, “we just wanted to enjoy ourselves,” he said. While the German team that eventually won the World Cup is the “model for everyone,” Karl said, the crew got behind Argentina.

“We were really rooting for them,” he said. “They have by far the craziest fans, always singing and just chanting.”

Karl offered observations of the Brazilian culture he made while attending the World Cup.

“Brazil had the strongest identity,” he said. “They are super proud to be Brazilians.”

The Brazilian people are “really good at enjoying themselves all the time,” Karl said. “Play comes before work. They’re the happiest people on Earth I think.”

But the country’s lack of productivity “can be frustrating,” he added. “They lack ambition to move forward in some ways. But some would say it’s not always their fault.”

A question going into the World Cup was whether Brazil could organize such a large tournament. Protests ensued prior to the tournament as Brazilians disagreed with the amount of money being spent. But police in Brazil were quick to quell any protest during the World Cup, Karl said. In the end, the host country “never played very good football, but organized a good tournament,” he said.

Taking in the World Cup from a different perspective was Jim Seichter, of Wallingford. Seichter, who chairs the town’s Planning and Zoning Commission, attended two matches while staying in Fortaleza, Brazil.

A group of friends took part in an online lottery for tickets months ago, Seichter said.

“They got more tickets than what they needed, and I graciously volunteered to take a couple tickets off their hands,” he said.

After arriving in Fortaleza on June 27, Seichter and a group of friends took in the June 28 Brazil match against Chile on the beach along with about 8,000 people. A group from Chile was in the middle of a larger group of Brazilians, Seichter said, yet there was nothing malicious between the fans, just playful teasing.

In an environment that might have bred aggressive behavior, there was peace.

“Nobody was drunk or obnoxious,” he said. “It was very controlled, which was nice.”

On June 29, Seichter and friends attended a match between the Netherlands and Mexico in Fortaleza.

“It was hot as heck,” he said, mentioning how the teams took cooling breaks 30 minutes into the first half and again in the second half. “That was an exciting game.”

In between games, Seichter said, his group spent time at the beach and a large water park in the city. There weren’t many Americans since the U.S. team didn’t play in Fortaleza, but there were a lot of Mexicans, he said. When Mexico faced Brazil in Fortaleza, seven chartered planes and a cruise ship brought in Mexicans eager to cheer their team on, Seichter said.

Seichter saw the passion of Brazil fans firsthand when he attended the Brazil vs. Columbia match on July 4.

“They’re standing and yelling and chanting pretty much for the whole game,” he said. “When Brazil played, it’s a holiday. Most businesses were closed.”

Before attending the evening game, Seichter stopped at a five-story shopping mall. Only one store in the mall was open, he said.

Looking back at the experience, even with thousands of fans from different countries yelling and chanting, there was little malicious behavior, Seichter said. “That’s not what you find at an NFL game.”

Seichter said he also admired the flow of soccer. NFL games, for example, are geared toward television, so the game often starts and stops, he said. But with soccer, the game is constant. “You know it will be over in about two hours.”

aragali@record-journal.com (203) 317-2224 Twitter: @Andyragz



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