Captains of Za’atari (2021)

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Image via miff.com.au

A lushly-beautiful documentary with a story that perfectly encapsulates the plight and humanity of refugees.

Director Ali El Arabi created this, his first feature documentary, after visiting the Jordanian Za’atari refugee camp as a journalist and seeing the important part that football played in the lives of young boys. He met two talented hopefuls, Mahmoud Dagher and Fawzi Qatleesh, and returned over five years to film them as they hope for a life outside the camp as professional footballers.

Their chance seems to come when a talent agency visits the camp and includes them in a Syrian team that will compete in an international tournament in Qatar. There they get to play on grass and wearing football boots for the first time and meet Spanish player and manager Xavi who encourages them all to dream big. As the football narrative unfolds, we get a glimpse into the life of a refugee, from the unfair treatment of Fawzi’s father to the vagaries of education and what it can provide.

The friendship of Mahmoud and Fawzi and their conversations are so perfectly pitched they could be scripted. It is a testament, I suspect, to the many hours El Arabi spent with them and his understanding of how to create a dramatic arc that the documentary is so fluid, cinematic and poignant. Highlights are the gripping moments of the tournament match where we shift from the drama of the game to the real tension as the families watch the telecast and the intimate conversations between Mahmoud and Fawzi as they lean against a fence in the cold, night air.

There is little that is didactic, the empathy of El Arabi’s lens is enough to show us how much is taken from refugees when they are cut off from a chance to live and work in freedom.


Have you seen this film? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

One thought on “Captains of Za’atari (2021)

  1. Pingback: MIFF 2021 Wrap Up (a.k.a. What Lockdown?) | fillums

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