Taika Waititi is back at TIFF tonight with his soccer story about American Samoa, The next target wins which received huge cheers and a heartfelt response.
Waititi took the stage with the real-life characters in the picture, Thomas Rogen, the Dutch coach played by Michael Fassbender in the film, and Jaya Sailua, the first openly non-binary transgender woman to compete in a World Cup qualifier.
The image, which was directed and co-written by the Academy Award winner, is based on a 2014 documentary that follows the American Samoa soccer team, famous for its brutal 31-0 loss to Australia in a 2001 World Cup qualifying match. With more playoffs looming, the struggling team hires a coach. Dutch-American Thomas Rongen (Michael Fassbender) hoping to change the worst soccer team in the world.
“Normally, you don’t see a sports movie about winners who keep winning,” Waititi joked. “I couldn’t believe this was a true story.” What’s more, it was a chance for New Zealand Waititi to showcase Pacific Islanders on screen.
“When I was a kid, there weren’t a lot of opportunities to see yourself on screen,” he said.
“I never thought I’d make a sports film, especially about a sport I knew nothing about,” he added during the world premiere of Q&A at the Princess of Wales Theater here in Toronto.
“I came away knowing a little bit about the sport.”
Rongen confirmed Fassbender’s onscreen role: like the character, the coach’s daughter died shortly before he took the job supervising the American Samoa team, and he had “lost some jobs”.
Saelua spoke about the life-changing event that winning in 2011 brought; How long after creating a “platform” for her to launch the diversity program. Saelua now coaches the American Samoan Boys soccer team.
The next target wins It’s a completely different movie, an old-fashioned, gritty sports movie, much like the 80’s and 90’s. Waititi also appears in the film as a Christian preacher.
The last time Waititi was here at TIFF was in 2019 with the world premiere jojo Rabbit, He received a standing ovation, the coveted Grolsch Audience Award, and went on to win an Academy Award for the screenplay for the satirical film adaptation of Adolf Hitler. It wouldn’t be shocking then The next target wins It takes the Audience Award again for Waititi.
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