Independent filmmaker Rachel Koteen is looking to crowdfund a documentary following the inaugural NWHL season. The documentary, which has the working title ‘NWHL: History Begins,’ aims to inspire young women, grow the league’s fan base and showcase the NWHL’s “strong, incredible athletes.”
Rachel Koteen’s love for hockey began in eighth grade at Rye Country Day School in New York State. Koteen loved getting out on the ice, but women’s hockey wasn’t prevalent when she was growing up. Her school offered a place to play, though, and she took the opportunity. But Koteen’s experience was different from the present day opportunities.
“(Rye Country) had a girl’s team, which pretty much no other school in the area did,” Koteen told THN. “We travelled pretty far and wide to play against other girls, and even played one adult women’s team pretty regularly. They were so much bigger than we were. It was pretty funny. But I switched back into the public school system (the next year) and I never played again.”
Koteen, who now works in the film and television industry, grew nostalgic for her playing days during the 2012-13 lockout and decided to participate in clinics around New York City. Then she joined a few teams to get back into the game. And, three years later, when the news of the NWHL came about, Koteen knew it was the perfect story for a documentary. That’s when she rounded up a crew and set out to begin her latest project, NWHL: History Begins, a documentary following the inaugural season of North America’s first paid women’s professional hockey league.
“There’s a real inequality still in sports when we think about telling girls, ‘Oh, you can be anything you want to be!’ ” Koteen said. “But professional hockey player? That wasn’t true if you want to tell a little girl that. So I was really psyched and happy when I found out (the NWHL) was happening.”
The project is a big undertaking, though, and one that is going to need some serious funding. It’s not associated with the NWHL — though the league is helping with access to games and players — and the project has already required help from more than a dozen crew members working at cut rates or as volunteers. To get the project some solid footing, Koteen and her team set up a Kickstarter campaign to help fund the project. The goal of the crowdfunding effort is to raise $45,000, which is still a low estimate when it comes to the full cost of production.
“To put our frugality into perspective,” the Kickstarter campaign reads, “consider that the ’24/7 Road to the Winter Classic’ series, which follows NHL teams during the first half of their season, costs about $1.6 (million) to make.”
Already, Koteen and her team have spent their own time and money to attend and film the league’s launch party, several games and conduct interviews with a number of NWHL players. The objective is to follow the league’s first season from start to finish — from launch party to championship game — and to have the finished documentary ready for the start of the NWHL’s second season.
“Every single player I’ve talked to had a great story,” Koteen said. “From talking to Tatiana Rafter, and hearing about her aunt helped her get the money to go to the training camp to try out, to Celeste Brown, who went to every single training camp because she was so determined to make a team…There are so many stories, I don’t want to leave anyone out.”
More than the on-ice play, though, has had Koteen in awe. The fan support at arenas throughout the NWHL has been incredible, she said. At the inaugural game, Koteen said a man approached her saying he was the Connecticut Whale’s biggest fan.
“I was like, ‘How can you be the No. 1 fan? This team hasn’t even existed until just now,’ ” Koteen said. “But he was! It was really beautiful. And of course the little girls in the stands…It warms my heart every single time, and my heart’s really not that easily warmed.”
One of Koteen’s hopes is to help the NWHL grow a larger fanbase. The league being centralized in the Northeastern United States makes it difficult for fans from the rest of the country and across the world to be as involved as those in New York and Massachusetts. Koteen also wants to inspire young girls and young women and to put on display how incredible the NWHL players are.
That’s why in the brilliantly shot 75-second teaser, blueliner Kayleigh Fratkin can be seen unleashing a slapshot set to Marian Hill’s ‘Got It.’ The trailer was put together by Marian Dealy, Jarred Altermann, Ana Vesilic and Batya Feldman — all of whom, among others, Koteen said she couldn’t have done this project without — to show the power of the NWHL’s athletes.
“The reason it was chosen was to make it clear that these aren’t poor little girls who everyone is just letting play to be nice,” Koteen said. “These are incredible, strong athletes who play a really high level of hockey, and that’s what I want people to see.”
As of Tuesday afternoon, two days after the launch of the Kickstarter, Koteen’s documentary has already received more than $14,500 from nearly 300 backers. That’s still well shy of the goal, but the crowdfunding effort has nearly a month remaining. All the support has exceeded Koteen’s expectations, though, and she said every single dime raised will go into making the best documentary possible.
And if the goal is met and the project has some success? Well, there could be more in the works. Koteen said the material is so rich that she and story producer Ana Vesilic have their work cut out for them, and it could turn into more than one piece. Koteen isn’t ruling out diving deeper into the NWHL as the league grows, either.
“I would love it, if this project is successful, if there’s interest doing a Part Two that’s a whole series on the second NWHL season,” Koteen said. “That would be the sort of pie-in-the-sky goal. I’d love to see that happen.”
The Kickstarter campaign for ‘NWHL: History Begins’ can be found here.