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Australia’s national women’s football team, the Matildas, captured the heart of the nation at last year’s FIFA Women’s World Cup. But it belied a decades-long battle for equality and recognition, which is revealed in new documentary Trailblazers.

“It was like we broke something open – this story that wanted to be told and was waiting to be told,” says producer-writer-director Maggie Miles, who made the film with Maggie Eudes.

“We approached the players first and asked if they wanted us to tell their story – it was a unanimous ‘yes’ and so we felt empowered. We didn’t deal with hierarchies because we are looking at a football industry that is still largely controlled by men.”

Trailblazers includes interviews with today’s stars, such as Sam Kerr, as well as the first Matildas who were forced to pay-to-play the game – an issue which eventually culminated in a strike for equal pay and conditions with the men’s team in 2015 (a campaign which ultimately succeeded).

The success of the World Cup last year puts those battles for basic rights in stark perspective. More than 400,000 fans attended the Matilda’s FIFA Women’s World Cup games and more than 11 million watched the live TV broadcasts as the national team finished fourth from 32 countries.

Trailblazers producer-writer-director and cinematographer Maggie Eudes says gender discrimination remains a broader issue for the game and society.

“It's great at the national team level and it sounds like it's equal, but when you come down to the second league, all the way down to the grassroots level, there is a long way to go.”

Trailblazers is a Stan Originals Documentary and is supported by an impact campaign backed by MECCA M-POWER and delivered by not-for-profit Documentary Australia. The film’s major funders are: MECCA M-POWER, Screen Australia and VicScreen. Not-for-profit Documentary Australia, which supports filmmakers and their impact documentaries, also provided crucial support.

It was always part of the design of the project,” Miles says. “We always wanted to make a film first and foremost, but we wanted to put that film to use in the world in relation to gender equality and equality in sport.”

Equity Trustees’ Equity and Empowerment program helped fund the film’s school resources program, which was created by (formerly Cool Australia). It includes 15 lessons for school students about gender equality, media bias, and representation through the lens of the Matilda’s story. Some early lessons made concurrently with the film have already reached more than 100,000 students.

“My experience as a kid was ‘women don't play football’ and I sort of believed it then and only went back to football when I was an adult,” Eudes says.

“Stories you’re taught when you're a kid – you carry that for your life. They're very formative years so to be able to talk about gender equality in a way that's engaging and fun means we're really excited about the education part. That's going to reach so many students of different ages.”

Trailblazers will premiere on Stan on June 4: