Q&A: Jorge Villalpando, Exploring Soccer On Crutches
In a country that lives and breathes soccer, video journalist Jorge Villalpando Castro was drawn to a team of Mexican players who must use crutches to play the “beautiful game.” On Storyhunter, AJ+ commissioned Jorge to produce a short story on a team called Las Panteras, or “The Panthers,” who competed in Mexico’s first national amputee soccer tournament. But there’s a surprising twist to the story when he gets pulled into the practice himself.
Jorge spoke to us from his hometown of Mexico City.
Storyhunter: How did the team members react to being filmed?
Jorge Castro: All the players were excited about the idea. They never once felt uncomfortable. I was even allowed to enter the field to get close-up shots. At one point, a player told me he felt like a famous athlete — like he was playing in a professional team in a big stadium. It was very touching because they don’t let physical challenges get in the way of their dreams. Many people who have all four limbs don’t live their lives with nearly as much passion.
SH: What was your thought process when you were shooting this story?
JC: I started filming the players as they began their warm-up. At first, I tried to get really tight shots. Then, I set up a couple of GoPros on the ground because I realized that way I could get a shot of almost the entire team on the field. I then focused on the main character, Christian Renteira, who shared the story of how the team came into existence. During the match, I ran after them with the camera, but tried to stay out of their way as much as possible. At half time, I interviewed a couple of the players.
SH: Was it difficult to follow the players in action?
JC: It wasn’t difficult at first and I quickly realized that they were actually in much better shape than I was. More importantly, I could feel that, for them, this wasn’t about just running around. They truly gave it their all.
SH: How do you think sports can play a role in aiding someone’s recovery after losing a limb?
JC: For someone who is missing an arm or a leg, playing a sport can be an important part of their lives, because it has a hugely positive effect on how they perceive themselves. They know they are among equals and don’t have to worry about people staring at them, which happens very often in their day-to-day lives. Playing a team sport has helped them accept their physical condition. They even crack jokes about not having an arm or a leg.
SH: Interesting. Moving on to the technical aspects of making the film, how did you keep this piece so concise?
JC: It’s always difficult to tell such a fascinating story in a minute and forty seconds. I focused on getting images that were fast, full of movement and that showed great detail. I also liked the challenge of editing it down to such a short length. I feel like the video shows the essence of the story, though I would have liked to include other interviews.
SH: Tell us about the gear you used.
JC: For this story, I used a Canon D7 camera with a pair of lenses (EF 50mm f / 1.8 for wide shots and EF 70–200 f / 2.8L for details). I used a tripod for some shots. I also used a pair of GoPro cameras, strapped to the heads of two players, and I think I managed to get very good footage out of that. Lastly, I made some shots with my iPhone 5s, because I wanted to test out the slow-motion feature.
SH: Did anything surprise you while you were shooting this story?
JC: The most fascinating part of producing this story happened at the beginning of the second half of the game. The team captain (who was the central character in the story) invited me to play soccer with them. Some player threw me a team jersey and asked me to wear it, and join the game. At that moment I forgot I was wearing Dr. Martin boots and jeans — I just joined the game, camera in hand.
It was great. I used a GoPro head strap mount and also the DSLR camera in my hand. The players shared their space, their game and their team with me. In the end, I took a mandatory team selfie with them.
Jorge Villalpando has been a multimedia journalist for 15 years, and specializes in video, print and photo. He created and oversaw El Universal’s multimedia vertical. On Storyhunter, Jorge has been commissioned to produce a number of stories for AJ+, including one about fire hockey, and another about Mexican students who expressed their frustration at President Enrique Peña by beating a pinata resembling him.