Washington D.C.’s Hyde Rugby at the forefront of new documentary

Hear from film maker, Jonni Masella as we talk "The Pride of D.C.: The Hyde Rugby Odyssey"

The sport of rugby and film are things that go hand in hand, but with few exceptions, there haven't been too many films featuring the oval ball. Jonni Masella, a film maker from New York, is looking to change that mark by spending the last few years chronicling the lives of those involved with the Hyde Rugby Program in Washington D.C. Her documentary "The Pride of D.C.: The Hyde Rugby Odyssey" has been selected by the Harlem International Film Festival which takes part May 3-6.

Washington D.C has been and continues to grow into a hub for American Rugby. The district boasts incredible participation within USA Rugby and is currently the #1 region for Women's rugby per capita. Local RFK Stadium will host a major international fixture this June between Wales and South Africa and is the home to 230 clubs.
These clubs range from youth and Rookie Rugby, all the way up to senior divisions. One of the more prominent clubs in the region, The Hyde Rugby Program, is the subject of Masella's film. The film tells the inspirational story of the first all African-American, high school rugby team in the United States. The documentary touches on their humble beginnings in the early 2000s all the way through to their current day status.

While, the team has been featured in articles by the likes of the New York Times and the Washington Post, for Masella, that wasn't what peaked her interest. For her it was about the character of the school and those around the program that convinced her this was the right project.

"This story chose me," Masella explained "I was looking for a story that had momentum and this had momentum. For me, especially with my background, it was the human-interest story that really captured my attention."

Going into more depth about her decision, Masella noted it was really the people within the school, both faculty and students that helped guide her story, and believed this story really is a credit to the people that not just rugby, but also the people in the Hyde system produce.

"Visiting the school really made a difference for me. There is something about the energy in the school and the writings on the wall that struck a chord with me." Masella continuing, "The energy in the game of rugby match the energy in the school. My first game of rugby was the first shoot we did for the film, and I was a fan instantly."

The film chronicles the journey not only the of those currently in the school's program, but their alumni, many of whom are still involved in the sport within their local communities today. This was an important connection for Masella to make as proved to her by the lessons the students are learning with rugby and sticking with them throughout the rest of their lives.

"The Alumni were important because they were the original team, they offer contrast showing how much they've grown. It provided a nice symmetry between where they were and where they can go."

Growth within the Hyde community, in terms of personal growth, was an important part of the story Masella wanted to tell, and one she gives rugby a lot of credit for. "You feel the characteristics of the game. No demonizing of the opponents, everyone has to play together, they walk off together. There is this brotherhood where people are willing to go above and beyond for one another because of their shared love of rugby," Masella explained. This was one of the major traits of rugby Masella tried to convey.

While proud of her work and the story it told, Masella does feel some regret as there were so many ancillary stories she wanted to articulate. The stories, which continued to highlight the impact rugby has had on this school were ultimately sacrificed because she did not want to cover something "a mile wide but only go an inch deep". Masella said of the experience "Rugby is an amazing sport to film, there is an amazing value to rugby...it's a beautiful sport."

The film will be shown for the first time to the general public in the 13th annual Harlem International Film Festival. The Festival takes place May 3-6 at the AMC Magic Johnson Theatre and the Dwyer Cultural Center in our vibrant village of Harlem, New York City.