Lyon’s record-breakers hit the big screen

  • A documentary on Lyon's women's team is being released in French cinemas today

  • It follows their fortunes over a three-month period

  • The film aims to promote equality in sport

Out on general release in France today, the documentary Les joueuses #paslàpourdanser (The Players #notheretodance) takes an insightful look at women’s football. And who better to fly the flag for the booming women’s game than the French club that now has 14 consecutive league titles and seven UEFA Women’s Champions Leagues to its name?

For three whole months, the director Stephanie Gillard trained her camera on the Lyon squad, documenting their success on the pitch and taking a behind-the-scenes look at a sport that receives less coverage than the game the men play. With a running time of 87 minutes, the film follows Les Fenottes in training, in the dressing room and at rest, revealing the people behind the faces and the work they put in to succeed.

The idea

The film came about when producer Julie Gayet got in touch with the director Stephanie Gillard, whose debut feature was a documentary on a memorial ride by members of the Sioux people across Dakota. In taking on this completely different brief, Gillard had to gain the acceptance of the players.

“I spent three weeks just getting to know the players, with no equipment,” she told French regional newspaper Ouest France. “Then I went in with my camera, on my own first of all and then with my team. I needed that time to understand how they worked together.”

The resulting film had a prominent billing at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, not as part of the Official Selection but in the prestigious Marché du Film, an international marketplace for films and projects.

The message

In looking to get her message across in an understated way, Gillard made the players the actors and chose not to interview them face-to-face or use a voiceover. The camera is at one with them and reveals that while gender inequality is diminishing, it remains a problem in the women’s game, where the lack of recognition, resources and media coverage show there is still work to be done.

“My view is that people don’t take an interest in women’s football because they don’t know the players,” said Gillard. “To build that passion, people have to be able to relate to them.”

What they said

“Whenever journalists want to come behind the scenes we always ask ourselves why. But she was a director and this film is like the titles we’ve won – it will live on.”

Sarah Bouhaddi [Ouest France]

“It shows what elite sportswomen do day in, day out. You see the work they do come rain or shine, all the training. People think it happens just like that at l’OL, that we just walk out on to the pitch and win. That’s not how it is. It takes a lot of work.”

Eugenie Le Sommer [Ouest France]

“They’ve gone down in football history if you ask me – not just women’s football but football history in general. And they’ve become legends too. They should be icons and I really want all of them to become known.”

Julie Gayet, film producer [France 3]