Wars and human rights violations forced people worldwide to disperse and flee their homelands to become refugees in other countries. And only their dreams pay the price.
"Refugees need opportunities, education, and sports... they don't need pity." one of the heroes of the movie "Captains of Zaatari" concluded in his speech in the film’s final scene to announce the most meaningful message about refugees who, in this messy world, are increasing every day.
“Captains off Zaatari” is an emotional Syrian story that follow the two best friends Mahmoud and Fawzi, living in the Zaatari Refugee Camp in Jordan, who dream of becoming professional soccer players despite the complicated reality. But they carry their dream inside their heart beside the belief and hope that they can achieve it.
Egyptian director Ali El-Arabi presented in his documentary film, which was supported by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the suffering of all these afflicted groups of people, who live on the margins between countries, and in unbearable conditions, just trying to live their day.
Every day, we watch the news on screens and know about refugees in just numbers, but we do not witness their suffering. To document a story is to make it live with people. And I think the tale of displaced people and what wars lead us to deserves to be known.
El Arabi spent seven years working on the film, shooting a whole year in the Zaatari camp and only 75 minutes have been picked. He witnessed the lives of the Syrian refugees among its pillars, and finally chose Mahmoud and Fawzi, who were then aged 16 and 17, to be the heroes of his film. He says that he felt a connection to their stories and wanted to convey it through his lens. The reason he spent this long preparing for the film is the need for the filmmaker to win the trust from the refugees to welcome the movie team and present their lives through the medium of cinema with familiarity and without any fear.
Football is the world of winning and loss, but for Mahmoud and Fawzi, it is the only path to announce their existence, desire to be seen, and the ability to achieve a lot.
The film opens with a scene introducing the teenage refugees in the football playground in Zaatari camp to us. These powerful emotions of enthusiasm and determination are reflected in their faces. Also, the friendship that made one of them have mixed feelings of happiness and sadness when he was chosen without his friend.
After Mahmoud and Fawzi become the most skilled players in the camp, fate smiles at them when the Aspire Qatar Sports Academy comes to select a group of talents to form the "Syria Dreams" team, which moves from outside the camp to Jordan and from there to Qatar, where it participates in a significant tournament whose matches are broadcast on TV and their families see them in Zaatari.
Reaching its peak, the film continues the journey of Mahmoud and Fawzi's return to the camp, where they are both over twenty years old. They begin to pass on the few experiences they gained during their journey to a younger generation of camp children who may have better luck living one day outside the walls of Zaatari and finding a professional opportunity in famous football clubs.
The nature of the football world, in which there is passion, anticipation, encouragement and the desire to score, gives the movie energy, but it is totally different here because it is mixed with this feeling of sympathy for the story and its heroes.
Choosing the main protagonists, Fawzi and Mahmoud, added to the movie, and their story is full of hope and ambition that deserves to be told and represents the light we always say that we will find at the end of the dark tunnel. A good actor is the one who does not make you realize that he is acting, so what if it is a real story with real characters? This is actually the advantage the documentary movies have.
The thing I liked most in the movie is the use of the Arabic song "Sawah" by the late Egyptian artist Abdel Halim Hafez on the tongue of Fawzi's father, describing the painful situation of all refugees all over the world and their ability amid all this to sing:
Walking across the countries
And the step between me and my beloved is huge
A faraway land where I am a stranger
The night approaches and the day leaves…"
El-Arabi said that there was no prepared script written for the movie and all the conversations were improvised. This appeared mainly in the talks between Mahmoud and Fawzi and between them and their family members.
One of the most beautiful scenes of the movie is when Fawzi is sitting with his young sister, teaching her English and talking to her about his big dream of becoming a famous soccer player and to later see how proud she is when watching him playing on TV. Every person in life has the right to dream and chase their dream despite all conditions and dismal reality!
“Captains of Zaatari” is produced by Ambient Light (Egypt) and has received support from numerous international institutions during its different phases of production. It was among six projects selected for the work-in-progress Final Cut workshop in Venice at the Venice International Film Festival. In addition, it premiered at Sundance, and was chosen as the second-best film in the lineup of the festival. It has participated in 82 international festivals and was nominated for 15 awards.
Lately, it won the Best Arab Documentary Film Award at the fifth session of the El Gouna Film Festival this year in its first premiere in the Arab world. It is scheduled to be released in US theaters in New York and Los Angeles starting November 19.