About the Film
DreamTown is the inspiring story of three young soccer players chasing success in the face of extraordinary challenges. Entwined with their athletic dreams are the hopes of all Afro-Ecuadorians, for whom soccer is more than a sport but the means to recognition and respect they have long been denied.
The people of Ecuador’s Chota Valley speak of a “Before” and “After” the 2002 World Cup. Before, the arid valley, tucked into the fold of two Andean ranges, was a forgotten corner of Ecuador—a series of small villages whose occupants descended from African slaves trafficked to the arid region to chop sugar cane. Its government paid little attention to their needs, and its country disregarded their history. But after a soccer team half comprised of Afro-Ecuadorians from this impoverished valley took the country to its first World Cup in 2002, and again in 2006, the image of “El Chota,” and its place in Ecuadorian society, would never be the same again.
The international success of Ecuadorian soccer has raised the Chota Valley out of obscurity and neglect, and given many of its residents a path out of poverty. However, with newfound hope comes unattainable expectations. For a lucky few, athletic fame offers a viable future. For the community, it holds the potential of bringing Afro-Ecuadorians the recognition and respect they have long been denied.
But could the valley’s greatest blessing also be its greatest curse? That’s what three promising players will soon find out, as they, along with a generation of boys from this region, have pinned all of their hopes upon a dream, and made great sacrifices along the way.
DreamTown follows the quest of Ulises, Anibal, and Carlos—three players at different stages in their career—as they learn whether the sport they love will bring them a better tomorrow, or if their dream, like so much else in the lives of Afro-Ecuadorians, proves to be just out of reach. In their inspiring determination to reach the elite level of the sport, the three men come to realize that their true goals lay beyond the field. And it may be that the game they’ve devoted their life to is the only thing standing in their way.
MEET THE PLAYERS
ANIBAL CHALA, 14
Anibal Chala is one of those boys who grew up in awe of the Chota Valley players who attained athletic fame. A star forward with a maturity on the field that belies his age, Anibal seeks to follow in the footsteps of Antonio Valencia, an Afro-Ecuadorian who now plays for Manchester United. He is already on his way, playing for the same youth league Valencia did.
But Anibal’s dream is more than a youthful fantasy. It is a necessity. His parents moved Anibal and his eight siblings from El Chota to the capital in search of a better life. But with his father suffering from heart disease and in dire need of medication, the family’s bills greatly exceed what they can afford. The potential of signing with a professional team is a financial opportunity that weighs heavily on young Anibal’s mind. His burdens, in fact, prove a blessing on the field.
Two years later, at age 15 he has been offered a 3-year contract to stay on the team. Meanwhile he has been selected to try out for the Ecuadorian National Team, as they prepare for an international tournament in Argentina 2013. This promises to bring long-awaited financial stability to his family and pave his path to soccer success. His chances are strong as he pursues his soccer dreams.
CARLOS MALDONADO, 22
Carlos has been playing soccer since he was 12. Sadly, despite his talent, success is far from guaranteed. It has taken him nearly a decade to learn this harsh lesson. Like Anibal, Carlos was a star youth player who worked hard doing the only thing he knew how. But at 24 years old, Maldonado has been traded between several local teams without advancing in the ranks. His window of opportunity for making the pros is closing. In the meantime, Carlos’s family also awaits the fulfillment of his dream, and they are growing impatient. He still lives in his elder mother’s two-room shack in El Chota. But to the frustration of his mother, he continues to pursue what is clearly becoming an illusive goal. “Soccer is my passion, it is my life—I can’t see myself doing anything else,” he says as a matter of fact. And in his statement is a sad truth for so many of El Chota’s boys. After dropping out of school early, abandoning his father’s farm, and putting everything else aside for the last decade in the name of soccer, Carlos’s options are limited indeed.
Will the obligations of adulthood cause Carlos to finally relinquish his dream? And if it is, what will he find, after leaving all options behind years ago in pursuit of professional soccer?
ULISES DE LA CRUZ, 37
Thanks to Ecuador’s first World Cup appearance ten years ago, the Chota Valley community today can envision a better future. With newfound success, soccer stars from El Chota, like Ulises de la Cruz, have also invested their fortune where they grew up. They are opening hospitals and funding infrastructure projects in their hometowns. And for the boys who wear out their shoes kicking the ball every night under the Andean peaks, soccer is no longer just a sport, but a dream. Witnessing the success of Ulises and his teammates, they have seen a path out of poverty, and it is by way of soccer.
What this radical change really means for the boys who play by the riverbank, and for the mothers whose husbands have left for the city, is yet to be determined. Will the attention garnered by Ecuador’s World Cup appearances last? Does the valley’s economic development hinge on the success or failure of the national soccer team? And among the generation of boys who dream to be the next Agustín Delgado or Ulises de la Cruz, what will become of the 99 percent for whom the dream will always be just that—a dream?