Scoring not just as a sports docu but as an ethnographic study, Cy Kuckenbaker’s “Bush League” is an entertaining, educational and immersive pic that portrays life in the Malawian village of Zolokere through a look at the ups and downs of its soccer team, the Tony Bombers. Shooting and cutting the film himself, Kuckenbaker catches plenty of action, from fiery debates over game play to the everyday struggles of villagers to deal with the specter of HIV/AIDS. If anything, “Bush League” is more interested in Southeast African culture than in soccer, which will frustrate some viewers and stimulate many others.
Shown losing their first game on a ref’s controversial ruling, the Bombers are sponsored by the U.S. Peace Corps, whose hotheaded rep Jake Wilson is building a school in a neighboring village that has its own soccer team. Rivalry between these two clubs is fierce and seems to sandwich Wilson in an uncomfortable middle. The docu’s other indelible subjects include the Bombers’ captain, Chatwa, an economically indebted farmer of maize and tobacco, and its head cheerleader, Jacklyn, an AIDS activist fighting both the disease and its stigmatized status.