Reading the local morning headlines each day can sometimes feel like an exercise in Groundhog Day: Has nothing improved with our schools? Are students still finding themselves displaced and scrambling for resources?
So it is in 2019 as, most recently, more than 1,000 students found their schools closed due to toxic levels of asbestos; and so it was in 2013 when, facing a $1 billion-plus budget deficit, officials voted to close 23 schools, forcing students to relocate and stretching the City’s limited resources with oversize class sizes and the upheaval of students’ and teachers’ daily lives.
But from this 2013 turmoil came at least one silver lining: A group of teachers, who’d been rerouted to teach at Benjamin Franklin High School (which is, incidentally, one of the two schools now shuttered for asbestos abatement), banded together to create a rugby team comprised of some of the student body’s most troubled students. Reading about the team, dubbed the North Philly Nomads, in 2013, Havertown native Brandon Eric Kamin was immediately captivated.
“I went to the field, and there they were practicing. Originally I’d thought Let me give these guys some assistance, maybe I can help them with a crowd-sourcing campaign or make a Kickstarter video for them, or something of that nature,” says Kamin.
Having played sports his whole life—football, basketball—Kamin had also always been involved in the arts and media; starting at age 13, he began working in sports radio at WIP, and he then worked at Eagles Television Network. He calls Glen Macnow a mentor. So when, in 2017, he had an opportunity to create his first indie film, it was a no-brainer what topic he’d explore.
“I really connected with the team and the coaching staff and the kids,” Kamin says. “All of us in Philadelphia really embody that underdog mentality. We’re a blue-collar town, and a story like this really speaks volumes to who we are, [and how] we overcome odds every day.”
The making of the film, called The Nomads and starring Tika Sumpter and Tate Donovan, mirrored its content in many ways: The underdog spirit that drove the team also bolstered Kamin’s cast and crew, who fell into the shadow of flashier, bigger-budget productions filming at the same time around town, like Creed. And the spirit of camaraderie that defines the North Philly Nomads—where the motto is “15 as 1,” a reference to the team being a family—also came to define the production team.
“We were a super small budget versus Creed, which is a huge budget and I was like Why are we getting really great crew coming here? And I think the consensus was that this is a real story, in Philadelphia—not that Creed isn’t, but this has something different than what I think Philadelphia has experienced, in that this movie, hopefully, is the heart of Philadelphia, this is about real kids and real teachers and real experiences that are happening right here in our backyards and in our communities.”
This Sunday’s showing is nearly sold-out, with a few tickets still available on a first-come basis this Sunday (plan to arrive 30 minutes early to try to get them).
After this week, the film will head to the Napa Valley Film Festival, and Kamin is in negotiations for the film to come out on TV. He’s also excited to explore international opportunities, given rugby’s popularity overseas.
As Philly students face many of the same problems today as they did in 2013, Kamin acknowledges that his film can’t solve the city’s woes, but he hopes it’s a catalyst for conversation. “I’m a filmmaker, I’m trying not to be too political. But I think with any project that I attach myself to, it’s hopefully going to create discourse and create dialogue, and create change in a positive way.”
Sunday, October 27, 8:15pm, $15, Philadelphia Film Center, 1412 Chestnut Street.Photos courtesy The Nomads film