“Red, White, Black and Blue” poster. Film poster courtesy of Stuart Krohn
"Red, White, Black and Blue,” which screens at Idyllwild CinemaFest 2013, is first a sports story that follows a traditional arc of inner city youth winning on the field and in their own lives, despite the odds stacked against them. But it goes beyond the playing fields and also chronicles the challenges these South Los Angeles students face in their families and private lives. These choices, made by the producer and director, created a film that is also a very intimate and personal story about the key players — their home lives, their doubts, fears, and personal resolves both on and off the field.

At the center of the film is the Inner City Education Foundation (ICEF) rugby program in South Los Angeles, that for 10 seasons has provided physical education and rugby programs for 4,000 elementary, middle and high school students in class and after school. ICEF Rugby founder and former professional rugby player Stuart Krohn said the program is much more than rugby. “It’s about developing leaders and decision makers.

"The film is in many ways a culmination of the years of building ICEF Rugby. Our ICEF players are interested in life, engaged, and want to grow and do well,” Krohn said. “That’s why we made the film, to inspire marginalized youth around the world.”

Shot in Los Angeles and New Zealand, the documentary follows 38 ICEF high school rugby players — boys and girls — on a trip to New Zealand to play local high school teams. Many of the kiwi rugby teams are composed of players of Maori descent.

Krohn said an overriding purpose of the annual ICEF overseas trips is to provide the mostly African-American students immersion in other cultures and to help prepare players for going to college and living away from home. On the trips, players stay in host family homes, thus deepening the cultural immersion. In New Zealand, with the contact between Maori and African-American young people, the cross-cultural experience was doubly meaningful, said Krohn.

New Zealand is a country where rugby is a long-established sport that local youth grow up playing — like baseball or basketball in the U.S. The ICEF program in South L.A. is only a decade old.

Many of the American players come from families struggling with overwhelming personal problems and issues, which, even in New Zealand followed them and influenced their play. Stephanie Curry, 5th grade teacher at Frederick Douglass Academy Elementary School, an ICEF participating school, talked about screening “Red, White, Black and Blue” for her students and the profound effect it had.

“In the movie, athletes experience real-life issues that mirror my students’ lives; absentee parents that have made negative choices that follow their children, loved ones killed for senseless reasons and well-thought out plans that lead to disappointment,” she said. “Life does not wait for us to turn 18 and then begin to happen.”

In the film, New Zealand-based director James Brown and American producer Krohn interweave rugby matches with personal interviews and commentary with the key players. Music also serves as a linking device between two cultures as Maori and African American players share their personal music and pregame chants.

“I’ve never made a film before,” Krohn said. “The main challenge was organizing the trip and finding the right production company. It took five months to raise the necessary capital. It was a massive collaborative effort involving the community and some major donors.”

Reached in New Zealand, director and editor James Brown said the film is certainly a sports story leading up to the big game, but is even more about the amazing principal players. “My job was to shoot everything as part of a rough story line and then keep a lookout for making the film unique and to keep it moving. We shot for two weeks. It wasn’t really scripted.” Brown said he shot 80 hours of footage that he edited down to the 81-minute running time. “This is the first film I’ve directed. I’m mainly an editor.” And in an aside, after discussing the action shots in the game, Brown said, “I never had any interest in rugby whatsoever, but I just fell in love with the kids. I got so emotionally involved.”

Monique Bacon, ICEF Parent Liaison at View Park Preparatory Accelerated Charter Middle School, and parent of Jennese, one of the principal female players in the film, said the film has begun to inspire both the community and a wider group of school students in South Central. “The ICEF program has brought a positive light to our community,” she said. “The film has modeled how to put differences aside and work together. Community members have said how much they related to the kids’ openness, and their raw emotion. They’re seeing the kids as role models.”

Krohn said he is bringing 50 of his ICEF kids to the Idyllwild screening. As coach, the film’s producer, and mentor to thousands of students over the 10 years of his program, Krohn embodies “role model.” “This is the seminal work of my life,” he said. “It’s what I was built to do, from all my travel and teaching. It’s about improving the lives of these young people.”

“Red, White, Black and Blue” screens in its first festival at Idyllwild CinemaFest 2013.