Documenting an Olympic battle for equal pay

Eighty-nine cents on the dollar. That stark figure — representing what members of the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team earn relative to the men’s team, and a reminder of the gender bias that persists, even for World Cup champions — lit a creative fire under producer Abby Greensfelder. The result is a new documentary that is at once a sports story and a political manifesto.

“LFG” tells the story of the U.S. Women’s National Team’s quest for pay equity amid a long-running legal battle with the team members’ employer, the U.S. Soccer Federation. The top-ranked USWNT takes the field against Sweden tomorrow for its first 2021 Summer Olympics match. 

Greensfelder, the film’s producer, is the founder and CEO of Everywoman Studios, a production company focused on telling women’s stories. “I felt like there was a dearth of places where women’s stories were being told,” Greensfelder told Jewish Insider. “There were lots of areas, sports being one of them. I think politics is one [and] history, science, exploration.”

“LFG” — the acronym of the team’s unofficial rallying cry, “Let’s F***ing Go” — shows some of the banner moments for the USWNT and features interviews with players known for their athletic prowess on the field and their political advocacy off it. Megan Rapinoe, the pink-haired former captain of the team, features prominently in the film. One shot zooms in on her face as fans cheered, “Equal pay! Equal pay!” at the 2019 World Cup, which the U.S. won.

The movie has a political message to share, but it also aim to counter one of the prevailing myths in modern sports: that women aren’t as good or as fun to watch as men. 

“I hope that people watch this and are pulled in and feel entertained, both by the movie but also by the soccer, by their athleticism and by their power,” said Greensfelder. “This is a movie that’s for everyone who’s interested in the underdog and people who are trying to fight against the system. Whether or not you’re a soccer fan, I think that female athletes are exciting to watch.”

The timing of the film’s release was meant to coincide with the Summer Games — last year’s Summer Games, which were postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Greensfelder hoped to end the movie with the USWNT triumphant, both on the field and in the courtroom. Neither has happened yet. “This film is coming out just as they’re going into the Olympics, and here they are, it’s like Groundhog Day,” Greensfelder said. “They still haven’t settled their case. They still haven’t won their case. And here they are, again, going to prove their worth on the field.”

The USWNT alleges that the federation has discriminated against team members on the basis of their gender by paying male players more than the women. Female players earn 89 cents to every dollar earned by a male player, and men earn almost double in bonuses for World Cup appearances. All 28 members of the women’s team sued their employer in 2019, three years after filing a since-stalled complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and three months before winning the team’s fourth World Cup victory. 

In May 2020, a federal court rejected many of the players’ claims. But an agreement in December between the players and federation settled the players’ disputes over working conditions and allowed them to continue their legal fight for pay equity, which has not yet been resolved. 

“LFG” has received some criticism for not providing equal opportunity for the players and U.S. Soccer to present their cases. “We have a specific point of view in the movie and are so clear about that,” Greensfelder argued. The film does not interview any members of the men’s team (who did not make it to the Tokyo Olympics) or anyone from USSF, who declined to participate in the film. “We were less interested in all these external voices,” Greensfelder said.

Abby Greensfelder

“LFG” is Everywoman Studios’s first feature documentary, and the film is somewhat of a passion project for Greensfelder. Decades ago, Greensfelder played travel soccer as a kid, Now, she is an avid Premier League fan and her two daughters play soccer, too — and her husband, The Atlantic staff writer Franklin Foer, is the author of a popular 2004 book about the sport.

The political nature of the documentary is new for Greensfelder, who has produced a diverse array of television series including “Say Yes to the Dress,” “MythBusters,” “Planet Earth” and “Dirty Jobs.” But in some ways, “LFG” takes her back to the start of her career.

“That was actually in some ways coming full circle for me, in that I had thought that I would work in more of a civil rights, legal-with-a-female-bent career,” Greensfelder recalled. “I ended up working in television, because I love photography, and I love writing.”

After overseeing content at Discovery, Greensfelder ran another company, Half Yard Productions, that produced reality TV shows . She eventually decided to sell that company and launch Everywoman Studios, driven by a desire to produce mission-driven content. 

“I was at this point in my career [where] I sold my previous business and had a lot of success, and I thought, ‘Well, next, how can I give back and make a dent?’” she asked. “I’m building this business because I think it’s also good business. But it is a mission-driven business, which is driven by my core belief that we need to see more of these stories, and sometimes they can be harder to do.”

Greensfelder was born in Washington, D.C., and lived there throughout her career, often traveling to New York and Los Angeles — cities that are better known for filmmaking than the nation’s capital. But for Everywoman Studios, being situated in Washington has been an asset. 

“I do think being an impact content company as we are, D.C. is a very interesting place to be because this is where issues meet policy and move progress,” she noted. The issue of gender equality and pay discrimination is a big one for some Democrats in Congress, and Greensfelder said that the film’s team has been trying to connect “with culturemakers and those that are thinking about how you can move policies and progress, to make a difference.”

With most major studios, networks and production companies still helmed by men, it can be harder to get stories about women greenlit, which Greensfelder hopes to remedy.

“The nature of how the business works is that the ideas really come from the heads of these companies. They sort of determine, in a way, what will be the stories that end up on television or in movies or what have you,” she explained. The company offers an accelerator program to help lesser-known female filmmakers develop their projects. 

Some of the other projects in the works at Everywoman Studios include a docuseries about the FLDS Church, a fundamentalist Mormon church whose founder, Warren Jeffs, is now in prison for sexually assaulting a child; a series about immigrant grandmothers who connect to their cultures and their pasts through cooking; and documentaries about women in the music industry. 

“We’re gonna do the hard stuff that nobody else is gonna do,” Greensfelder argued. “We’re gonna do the stuff that somebody says, ‘No one’s gonna watch that,’ [or] ‘No one’s gonna buy that,’ and then prove them otherwise.”

New documentary lends rare insight into motivations of Nazi perpetrators

While most Holocaust documentaries have, appropriately, centered on testimonials from survivors, a new film about the Nazi genocide takes a unique and altogether more chilling approach — featuring in-depth and often revealing interviews with the perpetrators who participated, by varying degrees, in the mass extermination of European Jewry.

“Final Account,” released today and directed by British filmmaker Luke Holland, gives viewers groundbreaking insight into the apparent motivations of a dying generation of Germans, including SS members, camp guards and other war criminals, who grew up under the Third Reich and believed wholeheartedly in Hitler’s cause. 

“We’ve always been asking the question of why, how, who was involved in all of this,” Stephen Smith, executive director of the USC Shoah Foundation, said in an interview with Jewish Insider. “At the moment, we have this sort of caricature, almost, of these uniformed monsters who committed the Holocaust, and we hear about them through the stories of [Dr. Josef] Mengele and his medical experiments and the ramp at Auschwitz.”

But “Final Account” complicates that view, while providing an unprecedented look at the seemingly ordinary individuals behind the Nazi atrocities. “There were people on the other side of the story, too,” Smith said. “They were making decisions, and they were pursuing their dreams, and they were becoming part of something greater.”

The film, which clocks in at a brisk 90 minutes, makes room for a wide array of interviews with aging Germans as well as archival footage of Hitler Youth programs, where young Germans were indoctrinated by the Nazi regime.

Which is not to say that Holland — who died in 2020 at 71, just after completing the film — lets his subjects off the hook. For the most part, he simply lets them speak — and their recollections of life in Nazi Germany are, in many instances, surprisingly nostalgic, even when Holland asks his subjects, toward the end of the film, if they view themselves as perpetrators. 

Director Luke Holland during the filming of the Holocaust documentary 'Final Account,' released by Focus Features. (Courtesy)

Director Luke Holland during the filming of ‘Final Account,’ released by Focus Features. (Courtesy)

“I have no regrets,” says one unrepentant Nazi who looks back with pride on his time serving in the SS, Hitler’s elite paramilitary unit.

In another scene, Holland visits a nursing home in Ebensee, Austria, and speaks with a group of older women who recall living around the site of a nearby concentration camp during the war. While one woman acknowledges what transpired inside the camp with some discernible remorse, another coyly insinuates that she was dating an SS officer who worked at the camp — and suggests that she helped him hide when American forces arrived to liberate it.

The most intriguing subject may be Hans Werk, a former SS officer who speaks matter-of-factly about his youthful passion for Nazism, which he admits to having imbued in him a sense of almost delusional grandeur that even his father found unsettling. But looking back on his youth, Werk seems to have developed a deep and genuine sense of regret for his actions — the only individual in the film who appears to have done so in any meaningful way. “These heroes you expect to find,” Werk tells Holland in one pained exchange, “there aren’t many of them.”

“What was fascinating about that was that he had obviously gone through that whole process of really coming to terms with who he had been,” said Smith. “So he stood out from that point of view as somebody who was willing to confront his own past in the present.”

Near the end of the documentary, Werk sits for a discussion with a small group of young, right-wing extremists at the Wannsee villa, outside Berlin, where the Nazis planned the Final Solution. As it becomes clear that they view his regret with suspicion and even disdain, he pleads with them to see it his way. 

“I think it was horrific to see that these young people were even considering that he might have got it wrong in terms of current-day immigration, for example, and that somehow or other, he’d been blinded,” Smith told JI. “He says to them, ‘Do not be blinded.’”

The subjects featured in the film, about 15 in all, are only a small fraction of the 250 or so people Holland interviewed during the more than 10 years he traveled throughout Germany and Austria in search of willing participants. 

The interviews, in their totality, represent a valuable archival resource as Nazi perpetrators die out, according to Smith. “What they can be used for,” Smith said, “is sort of as a research tool to help to contextualize how did we get from this civilized country to one that committed genocide.”

Holland’s methodology for procuring interviews was not always so direct. He would tell his potential subjects — whom he found via tips from well-sourced academics as well as on-the-ground research, and in some cases, sheer happenstance — that he was making a documentary about World War II, carefully priming them for eventual discussions of the Holocaust. In most cases, they were willing to field his questions. 

Margarete Schwarz (Courtesy Focus Features)

For Holland, who conducted a large portion of his interviews while undergoing chemotherapy after a cancer diagnosis in 2013, “Final Account” was a deeply personal enterprise. 

Born in England, he spent his formative years in Paraguay, speaking English, Spanish and German, which would serve him well later on. In his teens, Holland, who was raised in a Christian community, discovered that his mother was a Jewish refugee from Vienna whose family had perished in the Holocaust — a revelation that would profoundly influence the trajectory of his later career.

Holland’s previous documentaries include “Good Morning, Mr. Hitler,” about propaganda in the Third Reich, and “I Was a Slave Labourer,” about the post-war campaign for restitution.

“I think Luke personally was spurred on by that sense of duty to his parents and his grandparents,” said Sam Pope, a longtime friend of Holland who helped produce the film. “It struck a chord with him and was a major motivating factor. It kept him going.”

“Final Account,” which Holland began filming in 2008, would likely be impossible to make now given actuarial circumstances. 

“We estimated when we began the project that maybe 15,000 or so people, just based on populations and statistics, would have been alive currently who would be able to reflect on the past, who would have been old enough to have been active participants in and grown up within the Third Reich,” Pope told JI. “To try and approach this now, I think you’re dealing with people who would have been very young who might not be able to necessarily offer their views.”

Many of the subjects Holland spoke with have since died, according to Pope, and none have seen the film, which is expected to be screened in Germany. 

“Luke said to me once he didn’t expect his film to necessarily provide answers,” Pope said. “But he hoped it would encourage people to ask better questions.”

Still, even Holland appears to have found that some lines of questioning had their limits. During one disturbing scene in “Final Account,” he asks a former SS officer, Karl Hollander, about whether he remains committed to Hitler’s cause. “I still do,” Hollander says bluntly. “The idea was correct.”

“That interview ends pretty much with that final statement,” Pope said, noting that Holland never spoke with the SS officer again. “I think he couldn’t take it.”