In Football We Trust
A feature length documentary exploring the role football plays within the U.S. Polynesian community
- Tony Vainuku
- Erika Cohn
- Full-Length Film
- Subject Matter
- Pacific Islanders, Family, Competition, Sports, Students, Tonga, Samoan
- Featured In
- 2015 Hawaii International Film Festival - Pacific Showcase
- 25 in 25
- 25 in 25
- 90 Minutes
In Football We Trust captures a snapshot in time amid the rise of the Pacific Islander presence in the NFL. Polynesians are changing high school, college, and professional football. To understand this phenomenon, one must appreciate the individuals and cultures behind the headlines, their unique diaspora to the United States and the role of the Mormon Church in facilitating their immigration. Providing an innovative take on a new immigrant story, In Football We Trust transports viewers deep inside the tightly-knit Polynesian community in Salt Lake City, Utah. With unprecedented access and shot over a four-year time period, this feature length documentary intimately portrays four young Polynesian men striving to overcome gang violence and near poverty through American football. Viewed as the “salvation” for their families, these young players reveal the culture clash they experience as they transform out of their adolescence and into the high stakes world of collegiate recruiting and rigors of societal expectations. Their stories carry the majority of the narrative, while archival footage and interviews with current and former NFL players (including Troy Polamalu, Haloti Ngata, Star Lotulelei and Vai Sikahema) are interwoven to provide a contextual background.
Director, Tony Vainuku comes from a culture of third world traditions and a family of athletes. He grew up playing sports, but football was the focal point for his community and for Tony throughout much of his youth. For many who share his Polynesian heritage, the sport had become a way of life. In junior high however, between his different entrepreneurial endeavors and entertainment aspirations, Tony found his true passions lay in business and the arts. After high school, he spent some time in the corporate world before enrolling at Westminster College in Utah to study business marketing for the purpose of learning how to build businesses around his passions of creative directing, writing and filmmaking. After graduating with a B.S. in Business Marketing, Tony founded a multimedia company called Soulprofile Productions, which specialized in creative directing, video web ads, music production and other promos. Tony recently finished directing his first feature length documentary, In Football We Trust, a five year project telling the stories of four Polynesian football players struggling to overcome gang violence and poverty in a world of high stakes recruiting and family pressures. In addition, Tony founded and launched the Soulpro brand in 2011: a lifestyle apparel brand built on the philosophy of Passion is Purpose®. In its three years of business, Soulpro has grown across the western United States and been actively involved in collaborating with and promoting hundreds of musicians, artists, athletes and entrepreneurs. Everyday, Tony lives his life by the simple philosophy of “get busy living, or get busy dying.”
Producer and Co-Director, Erika Cohn grew up attending the Sundance Film Festival as a native Utahn, where she first began her career. Although her films differ in place and time, her fascination with religion and culture remain a reoccurring theme and her passion for social change the driving factor. In 2008, Erika traveled to Cambodia where she shot Giant Steps, a documentary about the reinstitution of art after the Khmer Rouge rule, which aired on PBS. In 2010, Erika associate produced the Frontline/American Experience series, God in America, a six-part historical series on our nation’s relationship between religion and politics. Most recently Erika produced/co-directed the ITVS and PIC (PBS affiliates) co-production, In Football We Trust. This feature documentary about the unique faith and culture that ultimately drives young Pacific Islander men into the NFL, will premiere at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival. Erika has received numerous accolades for her work, including a Director’s Guild of America award for her film, When the Voices Fade, a narrative profile of the Lebanese-Israeli war of 2006, and recent admission into the CPB Producer’s Academy. Erika has been a featured panelist/speaker at various film festivals and university conferences regarding independent film financing and mentors youth filmmakers across the globe. She attended Chapman University in CA, where she graduated with degrees in Film Production and Middle Eastern Studies. In addition, Erika is an avid documentary photographer, shooting primarily the lives of women in conflict zones, and serves as a US Ambassadorial Film Scholar to Israel/Palestine.
I am first generation Tongan; born and raised in Salt Lake City, Utah. My parents are both of Tongan descent, and followed their parents to Utah in the early 1970’s, where their families practiced Mormonism. I didn’t have much growing up, poor was the norm, and education was never viewed as a “better way” out of our then current circumstances. The kids in my neighborhood looked up to notorious gang members and popular drug dealers. However, the Polynesians who played little league football with me found their role models in Junior Seau and Vai Sikahema, pioneers for our culture in the NFL. They made the “American Dream” appear reachable. We all relied on our size and speed throughout Little League, hoping to one day play in the NFL. Yet, it was my uncle, Joe Katoa who stood out among us. Beginning at age six, his life was told through a football highlight reel. He became an All-State high school linebacker and a top college recruit for Nebraska, Michigan, Utah, and BYU. Joe’s football successes gave our family something to be proud of, and more importantly, hope. Tragically, after high school Joe lost his father to a rare disease and with that, his drive to play football. Having dedicated twelve years to football, opportunity beyond the sport seemed nearly impossible. Joe’s parents had never expected him to hold a job and his coaches ignored his academic challenges, as long as he stayed eligible. Joe spent the next ten years of his life in prison, becoming another tragic story for our family.
I left football during my sophomore year in high school after finding an outlet to express myself through songwriting and entertainment. In college, I discovered my passion for filmmaking and storytelling. Inspired by Joe’s story, I began searching for an opportunity to address our childhood experiences and an avenue to critique the role that football played in our lives. I then met the In Football We Trust subjects. Harvey Langi was gaining media attention his sophomore year, and had talent mirroring Joe’s with similar familial pressures. The Bloomfield boys were notoriously known because of their father’s gang affiliations. Much like the Bloomfield’s, my family’s last name was known for gangs, making it difficult to escape the stereotypes of gang affiliation. Finally, Fihi’s humble beginnings paralleled mine, portraying our struggles with poverty and the importance of Christianity in many Polynesian homes.
My personal experiences with loss and redemption have inspired me to pursue filmmaking. In Football We Trust is the beginning of a lifelong career in sharing my perspective and understandings of the immigrant experience.
- Tony Vainuku