For years, Arlene Nelson had covered several topics in her documentaries, but never sports.
“Art world, music, even true crimes,” Nelson said.
Then the acclaimed cinematographer heard about Angel City Football Club’s story.
“Being a sports story, I had to think about what makes it unique,” she said. “The more I learned about the group, its origin, mission, it was pretty undeniable that we had to tell this story.”
With that decision, Nelson and her team chronicled Angel City’s birth and eventually its first season in the National Women’s Soccer League.
Soccer fans will get a chance to get another glimpse of the short history in a three-part documentary titled “Angel City,” available on demand at HBO Max.
The first episode, “Brick by Brick,” debuted Tuesday on HBO.
Viewers will get a look into every aspect of the team, from how the investor group came together and the early conversations between co-founders Natalie Portman, Kara Nortman and Julie Uhrman, to gameday, postgame and roster decisions.
“It was a pretty daunting task,” Nelson said. “Any time you do a documentary, you have to gain the trust of the subjects. For this, there are more than 40 people that we had to gain the trust of, we tried to keep the (video) teams consistent.
“Transparency is of very high value at Angel City. At times, it was challenging to be in those spaces watching people make mistakes, everyone wants to be seen in a positive light. I think it was important to get the full-rounded story, show the warts and all.”
Produced in part by Portman’s MountainA, viewers will get an in-depth look at several interesting moments of the season, including a disagreement between coach Freya Coombe and former sporting director Eniola Aluko, now the team’s director of recruitment, and the fallout of when midfielder Katie Cousins shared a quote from a Major League Baseball player about his decision to not wear a pride uniform.
Despite only three episodes, Nelson said they could have done 10 episodes. They finished with 90-plus hours of footage and employed three editing teams and one lead editor.
“If it was up to us, we would be doing Season Two now,” Nelson said. “We’re waiting to see if there’s an audience and interest in the story. I’m pretty confident there will be interest and maybe we will be back because there are still so many stories to be told.”
The second episode (“Running with the Angels”) airs Wednesday. The series concludes Thursday with “It’s Who We Are.”
“In my conversations with Julie (Uhrman), we said, ‘If we don’t get these stories out there, how are we going to bring recognition and awareness to the league and what’s going on?’ This is a special time for professional women athletes and we have to understand the value of getting these stories out there.
“There have been so many misconceptions about women’s sports, but the interest is there and Angel City is proof that the interest is there.”
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