About the Film
DreamTown is a documentary about the precarious dream of a young Afro-Ecuadorian soccer player, Anibal Chala, as he strives to make it to the professional leagues, and eventually sees his dreams become reality. This coming-of-age story follows Anibal over the span of five years, from the youth minor leagues until he secures a place on Ecuador’s First Division team, ranking among the country’s top 10 players at the young age of 17.
This Afro-Ecuadorian soccer dream is further explored through two secondary characters whose stories are in parallel to Anibal’s; Ulises De La Cruz, a retired World Cup (2002 and 2006) star, and Carlos Maldonado, a struggling Third Division player. While these secondary characters are also from Chota Valley, their experiences offer two different pictures of what lies ahead for Anibal, who places all hope on a soccer career.
DreamTown’s backdrop is Chota Valley, an arid valley surrounded by the Andean mountains. Despite its lush landscapes, Chota Valley is one of the country’s poorest regions. Ninety percent of the Chota’s residents are Afro-descendants, and whereas most Ecuadorians finish 9th grade, Chota residents on average only complete the 6th grade. Public services are limited and the main source of income for residents is agriculture. Yet amidst this dire economic situation, Chota Valley has received worldwide attention in recent years for one main export: soccer players.
While DreamTown explores the challenges that Afro-Ecuadorian soccer players face, it is ultimately a universal story of hope and triumph. At its core, it is a hero’s journey in a world where our Latin American heroes are rarely depicted as black, and where the success stories of the African diaspora are often left untold.
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. When we first meet Anibal, he is 13 and a star forward with an athletic ability that belies his age. Anibal has lofty goals of playing in Europe like one of his role models, Antonio Valencia, an Afro-Ecuadorian playing for Manchester United. But his goal is rooted in necessity more than youthful fantasy.
Anibal’s family has moved from El Chota to the outskirts Quito the capital, in search of better opportunities. He is the third youngest of eight siblings. Anibal’s father suffers from heart disease, and his mother cannot afford to buy medicine, let alone feed her eight children. His 11-year-old brother, Leo, is his best friend and also plays soccer as a goalkeeper. They have made a pact—one of the two will make it professionally and reach their goal. They are fueled by the unshakeable determination to lift their family out of poverty through the sport. In an interview, his mother reveals that one of the motivating factors for the family’s move was to get the boys closer to the training grounds of a national team.
The potential of signing pro weighs heavily on Anibal’s mind, but this burden proves to be a motivating factor on the field.
“The advantage that Anibal has over his friends,” says his coach in an interview, “Is a necessity and hunger to make it. That makes a difference compared to a player that has all the comforts.”
With his mom at work and his dad bed-ridden, Anibal is the man of the house, caring for his younger siblings under their cardboard roof. On top of domestic sacrifices, elite soccer demands even more. “From this day forward,” the coach tells his team, “You have to know what you want.” In order to succeed in this profession, he tells them, they must put soccer ahead of everything. With dire needs riding on Anibal’s success, he takes his coach’s advice to heart.
When he must choose between textbooks or bus fare to attend practice, he drops out of school.
Anibal is constantly preoccupied with the decisions that determine his life’s path — decisions that could lead to fame and fortune, or that could sink his family further into poverty. Does he stay in school or devote himself completely to training so he can be selected for the national youth league? Does his family stay in the rural hometown, or should they move to the capital where he can train with the nation’s best? How does he challenge himself physically to stand out for scouts, and how can he prevent a career-jeopardizing injury? Is he sacrificing enough? Will he make it?
His father’s death proves pivotal to his career and story- he swears on his father’s grave that he will make it pro in his memory.
Anibal’s persistence pays off when he is selected to try out for the National Youth Team representing the top 25 players in the country. It is the opportunity he has been waiting for. But Anibal’s success is fragile, something he is reminded of when he suffers an injury that nearly costs him his career.
Will the sacrifices his family made—the move to the capital, the lost years of schooling—pay off? Or will Anibal’s dream slip away as easily as a ball through a goalie’s fingers?
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
Afro-Ecuadorian players originating from El Chota, like Ulises de la Cruz, have personally invested their fortune in their hometown, opening hospitals and funding infrastructure projects for roads with their success in the sport. And for the boys who wear out their shoes playing every night in dirt fields, soccer is no longer just a sport but a ticket out.
Inspiring, informative, and profound, DreamTown looks at the economic and social implications a sport can have on a otherwise marginalized community. As one viewer at a screening of a work-in-progress at New York’s Museo del Barrio attested, “this film has brought an awareness to me that sadly, being an Afro-Latina, I have previously ignored.” With US witnessing tremendous growth in its soccer fan base, this film is timely to the growing support of the sport and the issues our film addresses.