Year:  2023

Director:  Mitch Nivalis

Rated:  15+

Release:  August 27, 2023 and online

Running time: 77 minutes

Worth: $15.00
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Mitch Nivalis, Herbie

… a reflection of how a sense of community enhances anyone’s life whether it be sport centred or not.

Gender and sport have played a large part in the media and government culture wars for some time now, and unfortunately, not for the best reasons. On the macro level, whole diverse communities have been villainised for living their truths, with various sporting bodies worldwide shunning them from enjoying their passions. While on a micro level, individuals question where they really belong.

Non-binary filmmaker Mitch Nivalis has spent their childhood being told what sports they could and couldn’t play, leading them to question why so many parts of life are restricted by identity. In 2021, Mitch saw a call out for a new community AFL club for women and gender-diverse people: Mount Alexander Falcons Football Club. Equal the Contest follows not only the club’s journey from its grassroots origins, but also Mitch’s place in that team, reigniting their passion for sport.

Mitch introduces the audience to the many levels that make up the Falcons community, from its founders all the way down to the volunteers. Founded during the time of Covid, it’s apparent that the team’s creation is not only an opportunity for women and gender-diverse people of any age to get together for the love of footy, but it’s an escape from the baggage and trauma of a locked down Victoria.

It’s noted early in the documentary that VicHealth identifies two key barriers impacting women’s participation in sports as being: Limited opportunities and unwelcoming environments. Frustrating to read, but an indication of how equity in sports can support those wanting to participate. So, you can imagine their surprise when the AFL Central Victoria rejects the Falcons’ application to field a team. No official reason is given, just a long-worded email that boils down to ‘yeah, nah.’

Although disheartened, Mitch captures the team’s tenacity to be recognised as a real team while supporting each of the participants on and off the field. Mitch doesn’t shy away from the vulnerability on display, even regarding themselves. Candid moments show the filmmaker’s joy of learning football is only matched by their frustration at the lack of recognition by those above. Despite the knockbacks, the documentary is still able to show how far we’ve come by taking time out to talk about the women who were shunned for playing footy back in the ‘40s. Not only were these women playing a sport for men, but they were also doing it on a Sunday of all days. The fact that the women had to play on Sunday because all the fields were booked out on a Saturday for men’s football seems to have fallen by the wayside.

The best example of the Falcons’ impact on people is retiree Herbie, a Falcons volunteer who jumps in feet first to support the team despite being too old to play herself. She organises, cleans (well, her wife does) and is loved by them all. And later, standing on the sidelines while the team trains, Mitch captures Herbie practising to bounce the ball. It’s a sweet moment that shows that Equal the Contest is not just a portrait of regional Australia, but a reflection of how a sense of community enhances anyone’s life whether it be sport centred or not.