Andrea Nix Fine and Sean Fine are award-winning filmmakers and producers whose raw, intimate storytelling style has been hailed by critics as “visually ravishing” and “enormously spirit-raising.” Their documentary short “Inocente,” a coming-of-age story centering on a fifteen-year-old homeless, undocumented female immigrant in California, won an Oscar® in 2013 and was the first crowdfunded film to earn such a distinction. Previously, the Fines’ first feature-length documentary “War/Dance,” about child soldiers in Uganda, was nominated for an Academy Award® in 2007 and their 2013 HBO film, “Life According to Sam,” about Sam Berns and his family’s fight to overcome progeria, won both a Peabody and Emmy® for Exceptional Merit in Documentary filmmaking. In 2021, the Fines launched their impact studio Change Content with an edict to develop true stories into unforgettable narratives and docs that upend the way viewers think and feel about critical issues. They are proud to premiere “LFG” as the first of many projects that align with Change Content’s mission: True stories. True Impact.
Tara Karajica talks to Andrea Nix Fine about their latest film, “LFG,” a captivating documentary feature about the United States Women’s National Soccer team’s public— and controversial – fight for equal pay that premiered at this year’s Tribeca Festival and is being released on HBO Max today.
How did you get into filmmaking and, more specifically, documentaries?
Andrea Nix Fine: It’s funny, I didn’t think I would be in documentaries. I didn’t set that out. I was still in college when I connected to the thought; I was actually a Philosophy major. So, it wasn’t in the trajectory, but I ended up in a Literature course and part of the assignment was to put the response into film, and there was something about it I just love. I fell in love with every aspect of it. I wanted to film it. I wanted to edit it. I love to research the background to it. I’ve never come into something that was so varied, and I learned so much through it – not just about the craft side, but it just opened my eyes. Documentarians are naturally very curious people and I just have this curiosity to sort of get inside of things and I never tire of it, whether that’s something about a cultural experience that you’ve never been a part of, or it’s actually just talking to somebody about a transformational part of their life and following them through that. It’s really trying to better understand the human experience, and I never tire of that and I always feel so honored and privileged when someone opens the door and lets me in to do that.
How did LFG come about? How did you get on board it?
A.N.F.: When the lawsuit dropped, I think the whole world picked up and said: “Well, what’s this all about?” and our production partner, Abby Greensfelder, contacted us and we quickly looked into it, and thought that this is historical. And, although these women are world famous, it’s just such a head-scratcher as to why they still felt that they were needing to fight and explain themselves to be valued in the same way. So, the other part is that these women are so well-known too, they’re such strong personalities, they’re such leaders, and they’re so amazing at what they do. So, naturally, great characters make great stories. We’re also drawn to the challenge of making sure we’re getting inside the athleticism of why they’re World Champions and making sure to showcase that. And then, the other part is wanting to really get rid of a lot of the misconceptions about what this lawsuit is and is not. I think when you start to research how people feel about the women’s ask for equal pay, you quickly realize there are a lot of feelings about it. There’s a lot of people who are really right behind them saying: “Go! Go! Go!” And, there’s also some very strong feelings and opposition about why they should not even ask and misunderstanding about the way in which they’re paid and their talent. So, it’s also a challenge to be able to bring people inside their lives, inside of that human experience I was talking about, but also put some of the misconceptions out into the open air and clear it up.
Can you talk about the shooting process, especially during COVID? How did you get these players on board and how did you get access to them?
A.N.F.: It’s a good question about the access. I directed this film together with my directing partner who’s my husband, Sean Fine, and he’s also our cinematographer. First up, the access is getting the players to say yes. These women are really media savvy and they understand the power of media, but what we were asking them to become part of and share with us, is sensitive. It’s vulnerable. It’s difficult. It is an active lawsuit and there’s a lot of questions on how we can even begin to talk about these things. So, we had to be very careful to do that and also, we sat down with Megan Rapinoe in the beginning of this process. We couldn’t do it until after the World Cup, because once they start training, you lose all access. They don’t talk to anybody, and they just train to be able to win. And so, we really couldn’t even ask them until after the World Cup and literally we’d flown in the same day they flew in, talked to them and Megan was like: “Look, I’d love to do it, but you’re going to have to ask any of the other players, each one individually because, even though we’re a collective, no one answers for each other.” So, that was a challenge in and of itself to be able to have each of these conversations, have people understand what it is that we’re trying to do. And then, lastly, this is an active lawsuit against their employer, U.S. Soccer, and U.S. Soccer is the only game in town for them. They control the access to training. They control the access to games. And, from the get-go, they made it very clear, when we first approached them in the very beginning of this process about making a film about the women’s team, that they were not interested in having a film touch on anything to do with equal pay and they made that abundantly clear. So, that became a process in and of itself, how do you make a film about the world’s best women soccer athletes when you can’t even step into the stadium to film them? COVID, as you brought up, is also part of that, but we were 80% done. We had worked very hard to be able to film the different aspects of the lawsuit and find the few games that U.S. Soccer did not control, and we actually had contacts with NFL Films photographer named Steve Andrich. We just filmed the hell out of those games to make sure we were able to capture the power and the talent of these women on the field on the two games that we could get into without needing U.S. Soccer’s permission. And then, COVID hit and, at that moment, it was a huge challenge because, first off, everybody’s trying to deal with their own personal lives, their family, their kids, washing groceries, all that craziness. So, all of a sudden, with this lawsuit, even the players were like: “I don’t even know if we feel like talking about this right now.” But it quickly became something that the whole idea of equality and the way the world was asking – what was right and what’s justice, and how we’re valuing people, how we’re treating each other. The social activism with this team, I watched them talk about it; we sent them cameras and, to their credit, they took the time to set them up and learn how to use them and offer their lives up, so we chose to sort of experience COVID in the film, through their lives. And, it’s really through their commitment to helping film those final pieces in the film that we will be forever grateful for because we really didn’t have an end of the film that would feel anything connected to the other part unless they chose to do so.
Megan Rapinoe is obviously the star of the documentary as well as that of the U.S. Women’s Soccer Team. Can you talk about choosing her as your lead character?
A.N.F.: So, we knew from the beginning that this wasn’t any one player story. Megan is the first to say that there’s a whole secret sauce that makes this team so successful, and we watched during the World Cup her profile rise as she was speaking. She took the power when Trump was taking her to task and she was speaking out about that. She’s always sort of had a social activism bent. She has that social justice compass. So, when she ended the World Cup, she was very much the face of the Equal Pay fight. She’s the most well-known, but she’s also saying: “We do this together. We all work on this lawsuit. There’s a court collective that works on this lawsuit.” So, that’s where we thought: “Okay, we want to be able to talk to the players like Becky Sauerbrunn who’s worked on the lawsuit for years and is the captain and a natural leader on the team, and Kelley O’Hara, who is also one of the more experienced players on the team and who also worked on that lawsuit. Someone like Sam Mewis was interesting to us because they call it a sisterhood the whole legacy of all these players, and that they almost induct new players into learning the ins and outs of this fight, because it’s been going on so long, so it’s almost like an internship that you’re bringing Sam Mewis in. And then, lastly, but probably most importantly, Jessica McDonald was very critical in that choice. We wanted to make sure that we chose a player that’s the every player, that really shows what it takes to be a professional women’s soccer player and a professional female athlete. She may not have been definitely as well-known as someone like Megan Rapinoe, but her story as a single mom, as someone that has been playing in the leagues for years and the NW USL, which is the women’s professional league, she just puts a heart and a sense of day-to-day sacrifice that so many of these players go through that – getting on the Women’s Soccer Team and the National Team, that you’re selected from this pool of all these players on this league, and to be called up to that pinnacle can take years and, sometimes, you’re on a for a short time; sometimes, it’s longer. That point of being recognized and financially compensated for being those World Champions comes at a long line of sacrifice for a lot of these players. So, collectively, and I think you’ll see that in the beginning of the film, we chose to have them start that way because you meet them as a force, a group force, and you get to know them as individuals and how they start to address you, but you also understand that this is the whole team that’s going through this together and they are speaking from their own opinions, but also sharing the opinions of the team.
In that sense, can you talk about the title?
A.N.F.: “LFG” was something that we learned very early on, literally the first few days of filming, and it’s their warrior cry, their rallying cry. It’s the last thing they say together and cheer and look into each other’s eyes before they step on the field. It’s how they drop into the moment and fight. And, as soon as I learned that, it just gave me goosebumps because I was like: “This is it! This is the title!” And, I have to say it was an uphill battle because even Sean was like: “I don’t know about that. I don’t know people are going to be okay…” And, I’m like: “No, this is exactly what it feels like!” I played soccer for years and I love that game and I know what that feels like to play with a group of women and just throw your bodies in together, and get knocked around a little bit and get up and win and just have this feeling of power together, and I understood it. So, when I heard them do that and say that, I was like: “That is just it! That has got to be our title!” I don’t think we really went over it with everybody, even with HBO Max and CNN, but once they saw and heard them say it, they were like: “Okay, this is it! We get it! This is why we want this title as well.” I also asked the players as was like: “Hey, this is what we’re thinking…” and they were like: “Oh my God, I love that!”
And the song in the final cue?
A.N.F.: Charm is the artist who is performing the final cue, and it’s someone who Barking Owl, a collective of musicians that do all different kinds of work and it’s women-owned, knew and said: “Look, we have this new up-and-coming artist that we think would be really great for this.” So, she came into the studio, she watched the film, and based on watching the film, she came together with them and helped write the lyrics and really put herself into the song. They worked all night on it. It was one of those really intensive creative expressions and then, they played the cue for us the next day and were like: “Oh my God, we love it!” She was just in the L.A. Times. I think she’s really going to blow up and we’re really excited that we were lucky enough to catch her right before she rises and get too big for us to be in the film.
The film is extremely relevant today in terms of this new wave of feminism and the fight for gender equality on all levels in the post #metoo era. In that regard, what sort of impact do you think LFG will have not only for the US Women’s Soccer Team and their active lawsuit – and the outcome thereof –, but also the lives and psyches of little girls around the world and society in general?
A.N.F.: The timing of all this is interesting. It’s really at a moment where it feels like Groundhog Day, because if you look at when we started filming, two years ago – in July, which is practically almost the moment we’re at now – they were still fighting this lawsuit, and about to step on the field for the world’s greatest competition but, instead of the World Cup, it’s now the Olympics and feeling like they have to prove yet again their worth as the world’s best women soccer players and stepping out on the field to do so. So, it has that resonance right now that this fight is ongoing. And, when you say: “What’s the ripple effect?” I think a lot of women and girls all around the world will look at this and be like: “This is an incredibly relatable fight, and it’s still ongoing.” And, I think we want people to look at this and say: “What can I do? How can I get involved? How can I help move this down the road for equal pay?” And also, but more importantly, how we value women, how we value girls, and how we invest in them. I think this film really points out, takes apart and gives it a moment of saying: “Look, there’s a lot of misunderstandings about whether you’re talking about a woman athlete or you’re talking about any kind of worker anywhere, the way in which we value them has to be looked at.” There’s a lot of misunderstandings and assumptions being made that are actually quite dangerous sometimes and not helpful to make sure people are really turning into the good humans they’re meant to be. So, when girls watch this, I want them to be able to next time they go to do something big, to say: “LFG!” And, they can scream it together if it’s a team coming onto the field or if they’re quietly saying it right before they walk in to negotiate their new contract at work. I want them to feel like the sisterhood that they’re seeing in this film. These women always say: “Man, I’m so glad we have each other to go through this because it’s really, really hard,” and I think they’re kind of offering themselves out in their experience, sharing this experience so it can be shared and absorbed in fueling other women and girls to do the same.
There’s been a lot of talk about the situation of women in film these past four years. What is your take on the matter? Do you see any change?
A.N.F.: I hear a lot of discussions going on. I think that there are changes that are afoot. I do think that you’re going to see just the beginning of more women directors starting to be seen at the front end of films, and hopefully we’ll get to a place where it’s not even standing out that much, but I still think there’s a really long way to go. I think the entertainment industry and the film industry have always been a man’s game and unfairly so. Sean and I direct commercials too and when you look out on the call sheet and you see the names of who’s on the production crew, most of it is very male, so we always try to make an effort of changing that and trying to have a more balanced crew in all kinds of diversity for that matter. I think it’s starting to change, but of course it never feels fast enough. There’s a lot of sexism still left in this industry. But I’m excited about the conversation of where it’s going and that it is seen as a necessity to start thinking: “Hmm, should a woman be considered to be directing this piece?” and even more importantly, what are the stories we’re choosing to tell. It all starts in development – whose vision is being shared in this experience, who wrote it, whose life is documented, who’s behind the camera, who’s in front of it… There’s a lot of different ways to have this change happen and so, I get really excited when I have other women or even younger women reach out to me and ask me: “How did you do this?” and I’m like: “This is how I did it, but it’s going to be hopefully different for you.” I’m really proud of the film and I’m really proud of the role models that these women showcase for not just people in the athletic realm, but in any walk of life, so I do hope that all women, even women in the film industry, watch this and get all fired up to achieve more and ask for more in their line of work.
Do you have a favorite film by a female filmmaker and a favorite female filmmaker?
A.N.F.: Kathryn Bigelow’s films come to mind. And, I like Jane Campion’s work as well. They come to mind, but kind of for the same reason. I think it’s because they just give such an authentic sense of place and unique characters and it’s very tactile and you can feel it. We’re sort of all in the characters’ experience and it just feels so authentic. And, I love that. I like that Kathryn Bigelow tackles subjects that aren’t always considered to be the most natural assumption of a woman director directing. I think I have always been impressed by that with her and they’re just fantastic movies.
I understand you have a documentary on the U.S. transition of presidential power. What else do you have in the pipeline?
A.N.F.: Well, it’s actually about January 6th and it’s really about the events that people went through on that day. We’re working with A24 on that and we’re really excited about that. Also, the other projects that we have in development, it’s for all different kinds of things from documentaries to a limited series and they’re all true stories. Sean and I are really excited to find the right people to work with on some of these, and some of these we’re working on ourselves. Also, each one of our projects will always have an impact campaign connected to it, so that’s actually a really big important part I neglected to bring up before. That’s why it’s: “True stories. True” impact that we’ve really seen throughout our career – how our films really change lives, change the lives of the people and their perspectives. Also, what we’re really excited about is the launch of this company, Change Content, and these new projects; getting into development and seeing where that all takes us and others that we are going to welcome into the fold to help make them happen.
Photo credits: Cindy Ord/Getty Images for Tribeca Festival.
This interview was conducted (remotely) at the 2021 Tribeca Festival.