The Zaatari refugee camp in northern Jordan, where most of the world’s Syrian refugees live, lies on rocky ground surrounded by barbed wire.
When filmmaker Ali El Arabi traveled there to report for the UN and the Arab League, he found people who had little chance but were “very rich” in one way – they hadn’t given up their dreams.
Two of these dreamers, teenagers Fawzi and Mahmoud, would become the stars of his documentary Captains of Zaatari, which premiered at Sundance in the World Cinema Documentary Competition. The boys were the standout players on a refugee football team and hoped the sport would be their ticket out of the camp.
“When I first met Fawzi, he gave me a phrase that is engraved [in my mind]”El Arabi recalled while performing in Deadlines’ virtual Sundance Studio. He said to me, ‘The only time I feel like I’m not a refugee is [on] the pitch while I play. ‘”
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About 80,000 people live in the camp. Some Jordanians have sympathy for the refugees, El Arabi noted, but others do not.
Some see “they are victims and the people who suffer from the way things are happening in the world,” noted El Arabi. “[Others] are the people who really made me feel like I had to make this film because they think: “The refugees are here to take my bread and butter, take my electricity, take my water and they are getting help that we should get. ‘”
Fawzi and Mahmoud finally have the chance to show their skills to the world when a boy scout visits camp looking for players for a Qatari sports academy. El Arabi sees Captains of Zaatari as a universal story about never giving up.
“It’s not just about refugees,” commented El Arabi. “It’s about all dreamers around the world, because the dreams of these two gentlemen [Fawzi and Mahmoud] There are dreams that can be found in the US, Brazil, India, China, and all over the world. “
Watch the conversation in the video above.