Solidarity becomes the watch word of a team of athletes led by the much loved Pa Vann in Tommaso Colognese and Vanna Hem’s observational documentary, Lotus Sports Club (ក្លឹបកីឡាបាល់ទាត់ផ្កាឈូក). Now in his 60s, Pa Vann is a trans man living with a longterm partner and running a women’s under 21 football team in which the majority of members are LGBTQ+, offering a place to belong to young people who often have nowhere else to turn having become estranged from their families or rejected by the world around them.
One of the players on the team, Leak, explains that he always knew he was a boy but was expelled from school for cutting his hair short and behaving in a more masculine fashion. After leaving the home of a relative, a friend brought him to Pa Vann’s where he found a new sanctuary and a place he could be accepted for being himself. Amas, meanwhile, is from a conservative village and a Muslim family who struggle to accept his identity as a trans man and are unable to reconcile it with their religion and community.
Both Leak and Amas are deeply grateful for the new family they’ve found with Pa Vann and also for the opportunities they’ve gained through football, Leak especially thankful to have met so many different people from so many different places while coming to see that he wasn’t alone and there were other people like him. The team is however for under 21s meaning that the pair will inevitably at some point age out and though it’s clear that they wouldn’t have to leave Pa Vann’s because of it they seem to struggle with what else to do with their lives. Leak in particular is deeply worried about not having a job at comparatively late age and eventually leaves for the city without saying goodbye apparently out of a desire to avoid hurting Pa Vann’s feelings or a fear he may be angry with him for leaving.
Pa Vann is however philosophical if a little hurt, knowing that his job is to send them back out into the world with better skills to survive its harshness. Opening his home to the team members, he gives them life advice and teaches useful skills to help them find work such as carpentry and handicrafts. The entire point of the football team, which includes both LGBTQ+ members and otherwise, is to foster a sense of solidarity between the players to support each other in their everyday lives often in the face of entrenched social prejudice.
Prejudice is something the team receives its fair share of. Players complain that some coaches from other regions accuse them of having men on the team and inappropriately ask for “proof” that they are female sometimes by having a look or a feel for themselves. But Pa Vann isn’t having any of that, directly telling the other coaches that he won’t have people being “rude” to his team and that their requests are “unacceptable”. Leak complains that the short-haired players have it worse and finds it ironic that he has to tell them he’s a woman to be left alone while even spectators sometimes hurl homophobic slurs from the sidelines.
It seems unclear whether Leak and Amas find the city anymore accepting after moving there, but they do apparently find signs of hope in seeing other queer people living well while having their horizons broadened. Amas is also grateful for his time with Pa Vann but suggests that it might have been too easy to simply stay in the village and that he wanted to see more of the world and experience more of the life though he’d never have had the courage if it were not for the “solidarity” that Pa Vann showed him. Pa Vann’s own life cannot of have been easy. His partner explains that her family disowned her over the relationship while she herself identifies as straight and has never thought of Pa Vann as anything other than a man. But it has perhaps allowed him to show kindness and compassion to those like himself in giving them a safe place to stay where they can be accepted for who they are that then gives them the courage to extend the same kindness to others as they go out into the world seeking new and brighter futures of joy and solidarity.
Lotus Sports Club screened as part of this year’s BFI Flare. It will also be screening at Bertha DocHouse on 23rd April as part of this year’s Queer East.
Trailer (English subtitles)