'Captains of Zaatari' - El Gouna Film Festival review

This critically acclaimed film strikes an easy chord with audiences
'Captains of Zaatari' - El Gouna Film Festival review

Ali El Arabi’s heartwarming and yet ultimately powerful documentary carries a thoughtful message while being driven a neatly told humanitarian sports-based story. This critically acclaimed film strikes an easy chord with audiences with its story of underdogs being given a chance and a platform as it tells the real-life story of two young would-be refugee camp soccer players dreaming of playing in a tournament in Doha.

The film premiered at Sundance, and also found a warm reception at the El Gouna Film Festival in Egypt.

Mahmoud and Fawzi have been living in the Zaatari Refugee Camp in Jordan, and though they both have no real sense of what the future holds for them, they focus their energy together on their first love:soccer. Despite their tough circumstances in the camp, they practice day in and day out, believing that playing professionally is their dream ticket to freedom.

When Aspire Academy, one of the world’s leading sports academies, arrives to pick players for an international tournament inDoha, they quickly identify Mahmoud as a talent and fly him there, while Fawzi is left behind due to a technicality surrounding his age. Mahmoud is boarding a plane for the first time and is taking in the exciting experience, while Fawziis facing the tough reality of remaining in Zaatari.

Unexpectedly, theAspire coaches decide to fly Fawzi in to join his team and the two best friends train and compete together in the most important soccer matches of their young lives, while  - in  the film’s most tear-jerking scenes - their families in Zaatari watch via satellite. After the final match, they speak at a press conference on behalf of the displaced people of Syria, making it clear that people in the camps need an opportunity, not pity.

The final coda ofthe film is set three years later as they grew to young men - they are still stuck in Zaatari, and still troubled by fears of an insecure future but doing their best to coach other youngsters while also dream of a chance to play on an international stage once again.

Egypt, 2021, 73mins

Dir: Ali El Arabi

Production: Ambient Light

International sales: Dogwoof

Producer: Ali El Arabi

Cinematography: Mahmoud Bashir

Editors: Menna El Shishini, Alaa Dajani, Simone Elhabre

Music: Gil Talmi

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