Captains of Zaatari review – an endearing documentary on football in refugee camps | Documentary films


The opening of Ali El Arabi’s documentary is painfully evocative in its everyday simplicity. In the last light of day, a soccer ball is thrown into the air. As the camera follows the spinning ball, the heartwarming banality is broken by the sight of barbed wire and barracks. Here’s a slice of life in Jordan’s Zaatari refugee camp, the world’s largest for Syrian refugees, and a story that follows the friendship of football freaks Fawzi and Mahmoud from their teenage years to early adulthood. .

With tender compassion, the film offers a softly nuanced glimpse into the lives of Syrian refugees. It is peppered with endearing conversations between the teens, which speak not only of romantic crushes, but also of their dreams of becoming professional athletes. Zaatari’s captains are also alert to private griefs, when Fawzi’s hopes of being chosen to travel with Mahmoud and other young Syrians to Qatar for a soccer tournament are at stake. Typical teenage worries and concerns over refugee issues – such as lack of adequate health care and deprivation of political rights – are treated with the same intensity and attention.

Unlike a media landscape that tends to flatten the refugee experience with faceless statistics and sensational photographs, Captains of Zaatari uses plenty of close-ups to give young men a palpable sense of agency; and although the color palette is sometimes too saturated and the score can get too sentimental, it remains a wonderfully empathetic film that moves with its subjects rather than gawking at their fate from a distance. As Mahmoud eloquently put it in a press conference at the tournament: “All a refugee needs is an opportunity, not your pity.


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