2024 Milwaukee Film Festival: Day Four “The Herricanes”

Women’s sports are having a moment right now with the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament outperforming the Men’s tournament in many ways. Which makes THE HERRICANES remarkably topical, looking back at some of the earliest days of women’s sports in a sport that’s still very much considered a man’s game.

The Herricanes

It’s been a remarkable journey in my lifetime from women’s sports being almost an afterthought before Title IX pretty much changed everything. But, it certainly wasn’t an overnight change and many of the early pioneers have been largely forgotten.

Olivia Kwan, the director of the film, just happened to be the daughter of one of those pioneers. Which gives the film a focus as she’s undoubtedly proud of her mother and this little known part of sports history. And, it would be hard to say that the short lived women’s pro league and even the Houston Herricanes team, which rose from absolutely dreadful to merely pretty good but never won a championship, are notable in the grand scheme of sports for their on the field accomplishments, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t compelling stories to tell.

It would have been very easy for the film to fall into the trap of merely having the women interviewed fall into the trap of reliving their glory days, Uncle Rico style. But, the filmmaker and subjects are all pretty clear-eyed regarding their on the field accomplishments. Many of the women had never played football before, certainly not on an organized level, except as part of backyard pickup games with their brothers perhaps. The archival footage that was found suggests that the games were on the order of a High School game, no shame in that, thousands attend High School games every week, and honestly modern women’s football game footage suggests that there have been quantum leaps in the quality of sports. These are trailblazers, but not necessarily the highest level of competition.

But, anyone who’s ever played team sports will tell you that there’s more to the game than individual glory. Self improvement, camaraderie, teamwork, discipline, and friendships all come from working to become the best team you can be. Those are the areas where the film focusses and it brings depth and character to the film. You get to really get a feel to what sports brought to these women. Especially since many appeared to be outliers. Tomboys that didn’t fit feminine stereotypes. And a few lesbians in the bunch who were looking to fit in somewhere. And the team crossed the still very recent racial divide. Making friendships appeared to be at least as important as winning football games, and they certainly wanted to win football games. Especially against the mighty team in Oklahoma.

Balancing the two sides, playing football games and what it meant to these women, and in larger context how it impacted the perception of Title IX and offered inroads for women sports journalists. There are several sequences with women advocates speaking about Title IX and what it brought. But while those are all interesting academically, the personal stories all bring more to the table.

Unfortunately, there’s not much for archive footage, something that would be unheard of nowadays, which means that the filmmakers have to be creative for the games. In this case, a series of miniatures reenacting key moments fills in admirably and may even add a mythic stature to the games.

All of which makes THE HERRICANES a compelling, timely film. Like the namesake team, THE HERRICANES is scrappy and determined. Maybe not too polished, but it makes up for it in spirit.

THE HERRICANES plays twice more at the 2024 Milwaukee Film Festival, once on April 17, 2024 at 6:30 PM at the Oriental Theatre and once on April 25, 2024 at 1:00 PM at the Avalon Theater

The 2024 Milwaukee Film Festival runs from April 11, 2024 until April 25, 2024. Tickets can be purchased via MKEFILM.ORG.