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November 20, 2019

Playing Hard on a Field of Light and Shadow

A look at the intense world of Shadowplayers

Greg Ehrbar

Filmmaker Jeffrey Elmont is putting his heart and soul on the field.

Sports competition as a dramatic metaphor has been around since cave paintings. Shadowplayers shakes the form up—hard. The result is a strikingly stylized new series combining human drama, intrigue, action and high-tech with the physical and mental brutality of street soccer.

Actor Chris Lopez plays Sony Kamara, a young Mexican-African-American who had nearly reached the top of professional sports. Somehow, as the story opens he is holding down a job at a convenience store. The relationships, triumphs and mistakes of his past draw him into street soccer and a dark, disturbing network of players and manipulators.

"The trigger for him is the money, and also the person who named his name," said executive producer Jeffrey Elmont.

Sony's relationship with this person who suggested him for street soccer, and the circumstances that brought each to this point, are among the mysteries revealed as the series unfolds. At its core is the unique form of street soccer itself, played in this case in a mysterious underground location, and not so much a game won as a battle survived.

"It was developed in the early 2000s by a group of guys in Amsterdam and then it became this whole big thing," Elmont said. "There are a lot of tricks going on. It's all to show your creativity and to humiliate your opponent. In street soccer, you can be more individual."

Shadowplayers has been a 10-year goal—amid many other film and TV projects--for Elmont, an Emmy nominated producer of the 2015 documentary series National Endowment for the Arts: United States of Arts.

The timeline could be considered longer considering Elmont's love of both soccer and film as a youth growing up in his native Holland. "The soccer club that is helping us with Shadowplayers is the club that I grew up with," said Elmont. "It's called Ajax, and it is known for its youth program. This summer, three of the best players from that team were recruited for Barcelona."

As a film student, Elmont's project about a street soccer player grew from a small scale video to an elaborate 2004 short film. Titled League of Legends, the acclaimed production became one of his best-known works as a young filmmaker, leading to becoming part of the AFI Conservatory. Deeply inspired by great films and filmmakers, Elmont's approach to Shadowplayers emerges as a unique twist on hip-hop immediacy and Hollywood craftsmanship.

The superstar behind Shadowplayers is worldwide soccer legend (and series executive producer) Ronaldinho, two-time FIFA World Player of the Year and key player in Brazil's 2002 World Cup victory. He has also created aspirational possibilities for young people through street soccer.

"With all the poverty in Brazil, kids have soccer because all they need to play is a ball," said Elmont. "They play on the streets, and they are known for that beautiful game." Ronaldinho made it a priority to organize some of these players by creating the Globe Street Team, that also enlists renowned street soccer players for international matches.

Dutch player Edward van Gils, who starred in Elmont's League of Legends, was selected by Ronaldinho and Elmont to choreograph the complicated and often startling sports action in Shadowplayers. Between the cinematic and choreographic talents, the sequences have a visual elegance as well as stark, violent realism.

" I want to do something edgy and cool, something that others might not do. We can go really rough and wild. Language-wise, I don't have to be clean in that sense. The series is streaming, so I can go pretty wild if I want to."

Shadowplayers will premiere in early 2020 for streaming on ZeusNetwork, which is available on multiple devices and platforms.

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