Bruce Southwick had just completed his inspiring documentary on the Fijian rugby sevens team and their amazing 2016 Olympic odyssey that resulted in the country’s first ever gold medal. He was now mulling his next project.
The Fiji-based filmmaker and head of ZoomFiji looked across the vast expanse that is the Pacific Ocean. He could hear a slumbering giant stirring thousands of miles away to the northeast. He simply had to investigate.
It was, of course, USA rugby – especially their sevens squad with Englishman Mike Friday at the helm and the Rugby World Cup Sevens to be held in San Francisco in the summer of 2018. So, after the success of The Most Unbelievable Story in Rugby – Sevens from Heaven, Southwick and his team once again linked up with global sevens sponsor HSBC, with Hill & Knowlton Strategies joining the party, to chronicle the story of the USA Eagles journey to the World Cup.
“After my link with HSBC with creating Sevens From Heaven on Fiji, I worked with the creative agency H&K and among lots of global ideas the story on the USA kept floating to the top of the list,” Southwick told planet7s.com. “As a pure 7s fan myself I had also admired their rapid rise and loved the idea of seeing how they did it.
“From the initial phone conversation with [USA coach] Mike Friday to sound out the idea they have been nothing short of incredibly open and real. We also flew to San Diego to meet the team before shooting and the whole squad have blown me and my crew away with how welcoming they were. This has been more so than any team I have ever covered.”
The result was a fascinating, touching and soul-stirring two-part documentary – The Pioneers , with each one lasting around 22 minutes. The name itself, “Pioneers” is wholly appropriate. It was the pioneers who opened up America to the outside world a few centuries ago and, like Davy Crockett, the likes of Perry Baker, Madison Hughes, Danny Barrett and others a opening up new frontiers for sevens rugby in the United States, where American football, baseball and basketball dominate.
“The Pioneers name came about with me and the H&K boys bouncing ideas around after we initially met the team after the San Diego first visit,” said Southwick. “We kept coming back to thoughts about how incredible, unique and ambitious they were and The Pioneers stuck as it seemed to sum up how they are laying the path for generations after them, they are also aware of that in their actions.”
Indeed, as coach Friday says in the documentary, rugby has the potential to become huge in America and years down the road, future generations will look back at the current crop of players and say “these were the guys who made it all happen”.
During the months of shooting, Southwick said he forged a bond with the team and their attitude to rugby and life helped him see them as more than just sportsmen but as inspiring individuals who Americans can look up to.
“There are so many [memories], from players walking over in the tunnel to fist pump me before a big game, to how open and real they all were, to Perry Baker trying to teach me to dance, to how much they bluntly share with each other and continually drive each other with honesty to be better,” he said.
“These gave me a new understanding on what America is about in values and respect. They are amazing humans with an ambition like I have never witnessed. Trust me when I say this it is only a matter of time until they are the best in the world. Even better is that they will be doing it in the right way to inspire a nation.”
As Southwick says in the original press release: “Two very American values – togetherness despite our differences and open communication – have captivated me as a storyteller and taught me lessons for my own life. It has been an honour following the USA team with HSBC on their incredible journey over the last year.
“I can’t thank the team and coaching staff enough for letting us witness it in such a raw and honest manner. Their drive and aspirations are limitless and I can’t wait to see what these amazing humans achieve on and off the field.”
Written by Nazvi Careem
Main photo: YouTube