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On One Field

Documentary follows immigrants getting to know each other during pickup soccer games

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Djuro Jovetic (right) greets a friend on the pitch.

On One Field

Directed by Mauricio Osorio

At the Creative Alliance at the Patterson Feb. 4 at 8 p.m.

Toward the end of Baltimore-based architect-turned-filmmaker Mauricio Osorio’s On One Field, a documentary about immigrants in Baltimore learning about each other through soccer matches played at area parks, one of the players talks about the home he left behind. Djuro Jovetic, an Orthodox Croatian born in the former Yugoslavia in 1954, left his country in 1995 and lived in a Serbian refugee camp for a few years before being relocated to Florida and eventually settling in Baltimore in the late 1990s. He’s asked on camera if he’s ever been back home, and as candidly and calmly as he’s talked about his life through the documentary, he tells the camera that that’s impossible. His home was burned down. His friends were killed. He can’t go home because there’s no home to which to go back.

“Djuro, he’s special in the way that you don’t have to ask him anything,” Osorio, whose On One Field screens this week at the Creative Alliance at the Patterson, says by phone during an interview. “You just put a camera and you just ask something and he will talk for two hours. Even though he doesn’t speak too good English, he will talk and he will describe anything, and so that was just so special for me. He has gone through a lot of stuff in his life, and he has this vibrancy.”

Osorio is describing that feeling every journalist, ethnographer, and documentarian craves: that subject who, by simply being him or herself, brings to life the bigger story you’re trying to tell. For Osorio, an immigrant himself, that bigger story was the cultural exchange that takes place on improvised pitches in city parks where immigrants from all over the world gather to play the world’s game in weekend pickup matches. In these games, soccer becomes a crucible for acculturation.

“For me, soccer was more than just a sport,” Osorio says. “It was a means of communication and dialogue and a way to know many backgrounds and know more cultures, not just your own. These people have been through many harsh things in their lives. They’ve been through wars and all kinds of things, so they are really helpful and want to learn from other people and help anybody that they can.”

Osorio, a Bogotá, Colombia native, came to Baltimore 11 years ago, at first to visit a friend from high school who moved here in 1990 and had been telling Osorio to come visit. Osorio had to finish his degree in architecture first, and then earn the money to make the trek. “As a student you don’t save too much money to travel, so I worked a couple of years, and I say, ‘I’m going to come visit you and see how things are in the United States,’” he says. “And I came to Baltimore and I really liked this city. I decided to stay, and I found a job one year later, and I work for an architectural company. I’m also a teacher. And I’ve done many things in film. It’s my passion.”

He got into filmmaking through the Creative Alliance, attending a 2004 documentary workshop led by Paul Santomenna, founder of the grassroots documentary activist organization the Megaphone Project. Osorio took the workshop because he wanted to learn more about filmmaking, but he didn’t have a project already in mind. Since 2003, however, he had been playing soccer with other immigrants in Patterson Park.

“I thought it would be a great idea to document the life of these people because some of them, they don’t speak English, so their only mean of communication is through soccer,” Osorio says. “And some of them just come for the summer, they play, and they never see each other again until one year later. They learn through soccer to learn other cultures, they communicate through that, and they sometimes learn parts of the language because of the soccer.”

From 2005-’07, Osorio shot pretty heavily on the weekends, meeting people such as Jovetic and Burundi immigrants Yves, Ngenzirabona, his brother Didi, and David Mbeya. Shots of matches get intercut with interviews with the men telling their stories, how long they’ve been in America, why they came, what they do, why they play soccer, etc. It’s a documentary of casual flow, the herculean effort of one filmmaker trying to wear all the hats of a documentary crew.

Fortunately, Jovetic emerged as a strong personality. Osorio follows him to his home, where he meets his wife Darinka and his two sons, and into the East Baltimore homes he buys to refurbish—in his down time between two jobs. When he first got to America and didn’t speak English, he would take photos of the items he needed to Home Depot and somebody would help him find them. The staff got to know him, and Jovetic gets downright ebullient remembering going to Home Depot in those days when workers would be so friendly and welcome him with, “You don’t speak English? What do you need?”

It’s one of the disarming moments in On One Field, an instance where an immigrant to this country offers a very mundane reminder of what makes living in the United States something other people still desire. Jovetic is unabashedly sincere, and the joy he shows when seeing his grown sons’ lives in this country is the sort of genuine emotion that gives the documentary’s exploration of the people on the field a poignancy off of it.

“He’s like a young soul but still he’s been through the Croatian War and been in Serbia in a camp,” Osorio says of Jovetic. “He actually loves living in the United States. He’s so grateful to be here. That’s something that you don’t see. People complain around the world how the United States is a bully and don’t offer opportunities to immigrants. And this is something to show that that is not all that true. People live here, and they really like to live here.”

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