El Gouna Film festival documentary on refuges and their right to dream.
El Gouna Film Festival with its selection of Arab Films provides a wide-ranging view of the Arab world, bringing to the screen issues, problems, struggles and dreams of the people of the region. Among those, the documentary Captains of Zaatari, the first film by young Egyptian director Ali El Arabi.
It tells the story of two friends, Mahmoud and Fawzi, who live in the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan. They love football and dream of becoming professional soccer players, an escape from the difficult reality of their current lives. Despite being confined under dire conditions, they remain hopeful and practise day in and day out.
When a world-renowned sports academy visits the camp, both have a chance to make this dream come true. But they identify only Mahmoud as a talent to nurture, while Fawzi is sadly left behind due to his date of birth, just one year older than his friend. When Mahmoud leaves the camp, we witness the overwhelming experience of going out in the world. He boards a plane for the first time, travels in smart cars, stays in a luxury hotel, in a comfortable room with a large bed.
Meanwhile Fawzi continues to face the difficult reality of life in the camp. Unexpectedly, the coach decides to review his decision and invite also Fawzi to join the team. Victory is assured, but the two friends do not forget their roots, and they use the press conferences to make statements in support of their people, stressing that the refugees need opportunity, not pity. The end is not so hopeful. Their dream ends, the bubble bursts, and they have to go back to the camp.
The documentary has received support from many different organizations, including UNHCR. Here in El Gouna it participates in a section called “Cinema for Humanity”. It focusses on cultural and artistic qualities but also foregrounds movies with strong social responsibility that can have impact in the community, movies that have at their core humanitarian themes.
Captains of Zaatari is a moving story that challenges preconceived notions about refugees, touches the hearts of the audience, and helps them look at refugees in a new way. It offers a different perspective on the Syria crisis and argues that it can’t be neglected, that the refugee camps are not just shabby wire-fenced enclosures, but there are people there who need respect and have the right to live a life of opportunities.
Rita di Santo is a film critic and reviewer.