Review: Copa 71

Copa 71 premiered at the opening night of Barnard’s Athena Film Festival.

From February 29th to March 3rd, Barnard’s annual Athena Film Festival returned for its fourteenth year. On opening night, attendees, including students, alumni and trustee members, trickled into Lehman Auditorium, chatting excitedly in anticipation for the first film showing: Copa 71

The festival, which showcases women-centered stories alongside “Creative Development Programs” that uplift women-centered works, is “dedicated to celebrating and elevating women’s leadership and advancing inclusion on screen.” Copa 71 was a clear example of the Athena Film Festival’s mission. 

Copa 71, a documentary directed by Rachel Ramsay and James Erskine, and produced by tennis stars Venus and Serena Williiams, recounts the story of the first Women’s World Cup in 1971, a monumental event in women’s soccer that broke gender boundaries. The scale of the World Cup was extraordinary, with 100,000 in attendance, massive media attention, sponsorships, and merchandise sold on every corner in Mexico City.

However, the 1971 World Cup has been sidelined in history because it was deemed unofficial by FIFA and domestic soccer associations, who dismissed the event because they deemed the sport as exclusively for men. Copa 71 brings this untold story to the spotlight through documentary footage, interviews, and media clippings to show how an incredible group of women pioneered women’s participation in sports. 

The film follows players from five teams involved in the 1971 tournament: England, Mexico, France, Italy, and Denmark. The film features Carol Wilson of England, Silvia Zaragoza of Mexico, Elena Schiavo of Italy, and Ann Stengard of Denmark, to name a few. Even 50 years later, the players’ stories were told with fascinating detail, sass, and spunk. 

During the film, the players highlighted the intensity of the experience, and the dismay they felt when they returned home to find that they were banned from continuing to play as a team because of standards set by soccer associations. As the players’ returned home from the tournament, they were shamed into silence… until Copa 71 brought their story to light. 

Copa 71 was received by a participatory and attentive crowd. The film emphasizes the importance for all women to receive equal treatment and participation in sports. Copa 71’s brilliant and touching representation of women’s soccer demonstrated to viewers that capability does not depend on gender, and that women are stronger than the gender boundaries that confine them. 

The screening of Copa 71 was followed by a panel discussion that featured panelists who are renowned in the female sports industry. Panelists included Keia Clark, the CEO of WNBA team the New York Liberty, Steph Yang, a sports writer for The Athletic who has covered women’s soccer for over a decade, and Columbia alumna Kyra Tirana Barry, who is an active member of the US Soccer Foundation and USA Wrestling and advocates for increasing female participation in sports. Barry was amongst Columbia’s first co-ed class, and with help from some Barnard women, founded Columbia’s women’s soccer team in 1996. 

“There are so many great opportunities and there’s a great community around women’s sports,” Barry said, “so whether you’re actually participating in them, or supporting them— I mean, our [women’s] basketball team is phenomenal. Go support the young women who are working hard. You don’t have to be on the team to support the women in sports.”

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