Jess Kohl is the rising star directing talent behind a motivational film shot for the first episode of Nike’s new ‘From the Grounds Up’ series of films. The director captures the moving story of Hackney Wick FC founder Bobby Kasanga.

The film starring Bobby Kasanga and members of his football team Hackney Wick FC, forms part of a campaign to launch a new Nike app. The Production Company was Girls in Film and PRETTYBIRD UK.

Jess Kohl has directed a really moving, sensitively treated short, with a 40 second spot delicately carved out of the longer film, following the narrative of Bobby Kasanga, an inspiring figure who runs the Hackney Wick FC and motivates his youth teams to use football as a way of avoiding getting involved in gangs. Kasanga served time in prison when he was younger after getting involved in the wrong crowd, and wants to give the young people on his housing estate a way of escaping a similar path through the motivational power of football.  View the teaser here  

There’s a naturalism and emotion to Kohl’s direction, which lends the film a feeling of authenticity, and respects the stories of the people in the Hackney Wick FC community. Bobby Kasanga founded London’s Hackney Wick FC in 2015 to help tackle gang violence through football.  For Bobby, part of that effort is to share his own story. He encourages children on the estate to take part in football to avoid gang violence. 

Jess Kohl commented: “The process from start to finish took a good few months. As it’s a very sensitive story, we wanted to give it the time it needed to develop. We met with Bobby as an initial part of the process, as I listened to him speak I thought about how to communicate his story in an original and engaging way. He told us about the pep talks he gives his teams before games, and I asked him to talk to us as if we were his team. As soon as he started I knew this was how I wanted to approach the campaign - seeing him talking to the next generation felt like an emotive way to communicate his story, and allowed us to show the different personalities involved in Hackney Wick FC through the simple set up of a pep talk.”

Kohl’s directorial style has a real sense of humanity and empathy for the people featured in the film, including Bobby, the young players on his footballs teams, and the volunteers who support the club including Pete the Wicker, who is always pitch side to cheer on the youth team.

“I wanted to keep the kids off the streets, keep them occupied, and give them a path,” says Bobby Kasanga. So he gave his community something it never had before: its own football club. Bobby founded Hackney Wick FC with the help and support of Hackney’s residents. The club has grown from one men’s team to nearly two dozen teams for men, women, and youth in less than five years.

Kasanga was released from prison 4 years ago.  As a child he represented his county at football but got in with the wrong crowd and became involved in a gang, ending up spending 8 years in prison. Founding Hackney Wick FC gave him a new purpose in life, and a mission to inspire the young people on the estate where he grew up to channel their energy into sport as a positive outlet.  Hackney Wick FC has a men and women’s team as well as a youth academy, and Kasanga’s boundless energy combined with Kohl’s sensitive direction, proves that football has the power to unite people with the mantra “Think outside the Blocks”.

Jess Kohl was the recipient of both the Best Director and Best Documentary award at Milan Fashion Film Festival in 2019, and won Best Documentary at the Athens Fashion Film Festival. Her Short Film Nirvana won the Short Film Award at One World Media Awards in 2019, and was screened at the BFI Flare London Short Film Festival. Nirvana was also recognised at Ciclope 2019 and Underwire Film Festival in 2019. 

View the full version of the film below or on YouTube here.