Biopic of Soccer Governing Body FIFA Cost $32 MillionTariq Panja
Soccer governing body FIFA contributed about a quarter of the budget of a newly released movie on its history that avoids corruption issues that tainted the organization in the past four years.
United Passions, which debuted at the Cannes Film Festival last week, features Pulp Fiction actor Tim Roth as FIFA President Sepp Blatter while Frenchman Gerard Depardieu plays World Cup creator Jules Rimet. Sam Neill stars as Joao Havelange, the former president who turned the organization into a money-making machine before being exposed in retirement for taking bribes from a marketing partner.
Frederic Auburtin, who worked on “The Man in the Iron Mask” with Leonardo DiCaprio, directed the film, which is based on conversations with officials and information from the Zurich-based organization’s archives. The 78-year-old Blatter, who may announce plans for a fifth term before the start of next month’s World Cup, was heavily involved and made himself available for several interviews, said Louise Maurin, chief executive officer of Paris-based Leuviah Films, one of the co-producers.
“When the project was artistically born, they let us do what we wanted. There wasn’t any pressure,” Maurin said in an interview from Paris. She said FIFA contributed about a quarter of the film’s 23.5 million-euro ($32 million) budget.
The month-long World Cup starts June 12 in Sao Paulo, and ends July 13 with a final in Rio de Janiero’s iconic Maracana stadium.
FIFA has in recent years made changes in an effort to improve an image battered by corruption cases amid a continuing investigation into the awarding of the 2022 World Cup to Gulf emirate Qatar in 2010. Absent from the film are figures including Mohamed bin Hammam, the Qatari ex-head of Asian soccer and a former Blatter ally. He was expelled after a 15-year stint on the board following claims he tried to bribe voters with envelopes stuffed with cash ahead of his challenge to unseat the FIFA president in 2011.
“Our movie is not an investigation about FIFA,” Maurin said. “Our movie is a historic movie about the history of FIFA from birth up until now. It’s a fiction. It’s not about business or corruption.”
Blatter had said he would stand down following his most recent election, when he ended up as the only candidate. In recent weeks he’s said he’ll be a candidate again if FIFA’s 209 member associations ask him to.
“Mr. Blatter told a lot of stories about FIFA, and a lot of stories about himself, from when he arrived up until now,” Maurin said.
Roland Buechel, a member of the Swiss parliament who once worked for FIFA’s defunct marketing partner ISL, said the movie is an example of Blatter’s efforts to raise his profile, speculating it’s part of a push to win the Nobel Peace Prize.
“Maybe the film will help for this as well,” he said by phone. “It’s a high price for the prize.”
The movie hasn’t received rave reviews. The U.K.’s Guardian newspaper correctly predicted that it wouldn’t win any prizes at Cannes in France. The Mirror said the film could be the worst-ever soccer movie.
Blatter, who is Swiss, joined FIFA in the late 1970s as a development officer, before moving on to become its general secretary under Havelange. The Brazilian attracted sponsors such as Coca-Cola Co. and Adidas AG to sponsor the World Cup and got broadcasters to pay increasing amounts to cover the quadrennial event. The World Cup is now worth about $5 billion. Backed by the support and financial assistance of Bin Hammam, Blatter was first elected president in 1998.
Maurin said she was unaware of who Bin Hammam was. Jack Warner, another long-time former Blatter ally, also doesn’t feature in the film. Warner, a former FIFA vice president, quit the governing body in 2011 amid a bribery investigation and denied wrongdoing.
“It would be better and correct to have a wider range, and these people who are not in it played quite an important role in the company,” Buechel said.
FIFA declined to say how much it contributed toward the movie.
“We agreed to contribute financially as we considered this to be a unique opportunity to raise awareness of the breadth of FIFA’s work to develop football globally, and of the challenges FIFA had to overcome in establishing the FIFA World Cup™and turning it into the world’s biggest single sporting event,” the organization said in an e-mailed statement.
Producers were given access to FIFA’s film archive and were supported by its marketing and press departments as well as the office of general secretary Jerome Valcke, Maurin said.
“We had lots of meetings with Valcke to get materials to be put into the film,” she said.