By James Zug
Camera crews often come to film at urban squash programs. Usually they are making a short segment for local television. It is pretty common. George Polsky, the founder and executive director of StreetSquash, counted twenty different crews that visited his program.
The twenty-first has stayed. Archimedia Films is making a feature-length documentary about urban squash. To be titled Behind the Glass, the film is an in-depth look at the after-school youth enrichment movement through a half dozen students at StreetSquash in New York and Squash Urbano Colombia in Cartagena.
Two young filmmakers in Los Angeles, Mark Funk and John Murphy, are making Behind the Glass. They grew up together in northern New Jersey. Funk played on the varsity at Dartmouth, graduating in 2015. For years, he and Murphy batted around some ideas for a film, the most promising of which was one about following junior squash players around the world. “We thought we might go to Egypt, England, Malaysia and learn why these players had gotten so good,” said Funk.
Last summer Funk went to a cousin’s wedding in Bogota. Free for a couple of days, he slipped over to Cartagena to see about the new urban squash program there. “I went out to the courts and by chance there was a practice going on and I got to talk with the players and staff, and get on court and play. The more I chatted, the more I realized there was a story here. It planted a seed.”
Funk had worked at StreetSquash the summer before heading to Dartmouth and had gotten to know many urban squash alumni while playing junior and college squash, so in August he and Murphy went to Polsky to propose doing a film. Polsky agreed, and Funk and Murphy, in collaboration with StreetSquash’s staff, started hanging out with the kids. During a two-day trip to a summer camp in Pennsylvania at the end of the summer, a few of the students came to the fore. “They all said, ‘Kyrell loves the camera, talk to him,’” said Murphy, so we started talking with Kyrell and then his best friend Joetta.”
Kyrell Wilson is a senior and one of the leaders at StreetSquash. He came out as gay a couple of years ago. “He’s a confident, colorful, magnetic person who is always at StreetSquash,” said Funk. Joetta Francis is Behind the Glass’ other main character from StreetSquash. “She’s also a senior and has a vibrant life outside the program,” said Murphy. “She sings every Sunday at a church in Brooklyn and it has been amazing to get to know her family.” Funk and Murphy have also gotten to know StreetSquash’s Connor Robinson and Jahresse Mclaurin for the film.
Counterpoising this group are two students from Squash Urbano. Funk and Murphy spent three weeks in Cartagena in February and quickly latched onto two subjects: Jesus David Flores is a twelve year-old who is struggling with a family tragedy—his older brother recently got into a motorcycle accident and is in near-coma; Valeria Osorio is a high-performing student looking to go to a boarding school in the States. The lead characters in the film will all meet up in June at the Urban Squash Nationals. “I love squash, the kids love squash,” said Funk. “It really helps to get to know them by playing the same game, talking about squash. It is common ground.”
Funk and Murphy have filmed over eighty hours of footage, including interviews with staff and mentors at the programs, as well as other leaders in the squash community. To support the project, they are using Fractured Atlas, an arts fundraising 501 (c) 3 charity and have gotten more than $35,000, close to their budget of $50,000. They are working with animators, translators and sound editors and hope to finish the film in time to submit it to the Cartagena Film Festival, which is held each March, as well as other festivals.
Behind the Glass will be the first major new film devoted to the game since Keep Eye on Ball: The Hashim Khan Story, which Josh Easdon and Beth Rasin produced in 2009.