Taika Waititi’s new film “Next Goal Wins” is based on the true story of the American Samoa soccer team, infamous for their brutal 31-0 FIFA loss in 2001. Their story was immortalized in the 2014 documentary of the same name by Mike Brett and Steve Jamison, so Waititi admits he took some creative liberties in adapting the story for the screen.
“I had to twist the truth,” he told the audience before the world premiere at the Toronto Film Festival. “Otherwise, watch the documentary.”
“Next Goal Wins” picks up with the World Cup Qualifiers approaching, as the team hires down-on-his-luck coach Thomas Rongen (Michael Fassbender) in the hopes he will turn around their bleak track record.
Waititi, who was last at the festival with 2019’s Oscar-winner “Jojo Rabbit,” says the film is about finding your family. “Sometimes it doesn’t need to be related by blood,” he said, adding in a sing-songy voice: “Find your tribe.”
Will Arnett and Elisabeth Moss, Oscar Kightley, Kaimana, David Fane, Rachel House, Beulah Koale, Uli Latukefu, Semu Filipo and Lehi Falepapalangi round out the cast, but none of the stars were able to attend the festival because of the twin labor strikes that have left actors and screenwriters on the picket lines.
Instead, Waitit was joined by the real-life inspiration for Fassbender’s character as well as Jaiyah Saelua, who is portrayed by Kaimana and serves as the heart of the film. She’s a faʻafafine, a third gender in Polynesian society, and is the first openly non-binary and trans woman to compete in the FIFA World Cup. They were greeted at the Princess of Wales Theater with a heartfelt standing ovation.
“I’m really satisfied with Kaimana’s performance,” Saelua said. But, she admits, it was surreal to watch her story told in a movie. “It was hard for me to separate the documentary from Taika’s hybrid version. We understand he will do as he pleases.”
Waititi chimed in, “Never let the truth get in the way of a good story!”