Cinema | In ‘Tiro libre,’ walls of separation and misunderstanding

Chicago | A film conceived by Chileans about the aspirations of Palestine’s national team has stirred a Chicago film festival—at least judging by an 11-page torrent of comments that debates which filmmaker deserves credit for the idea and which has the more credible connections to justice struggles (Ed M. Koziarski, “Social Justice, with Soccer,” Chicago Reader, Apr 3).

In Spanish and English, writers claiming to be related to the filmmakers and even someone posting in the name one of the project’s creators, Nelson Soza, vie for the right to tell the story of Tiro libre (Free Kick). The 117-minute documentary has taken a four-year journey to its festival debuts last year in Trieste, Italy, and earlier this month at the Chicago Latino Film Festival.

Piña speaks with interviewer Carla Maldonado, of El Comercio of Ecuador, during the Festival del Cinema Latino Americano in Trieste, Italy, in Nov 07. He did not attend the Chicago screenings. (© 2007 Festival del Cinema Latino Americano)

Alon Raab, writing for the Global Game when the film had the working title Futbol Palestina 2006 (22 Apr 05), interviewed Soza three years ago as Palestine’s national team made its way through World Cup qualifying. Soza, listed as producer at the time, along with collaborator Marcelo Piña experienced the woes familiar to the documentary filmmaker: the continued need for financing and, in this case, competition with a second documentary crew filming its own project, Goal Dreams (known originally as World Cup Inshallah), released in 2006 to worldwide praise.

In both films, the West Bank barrier (or “separation fence” or “apartheid wall”) and its network of security checkpoints that severely restrict movement in the Palestinian territories become a metaphor for sport’s potential to bring transcendent purpose to life (see 11 Jan 08 for how these separations affect women’s football). Sport, especially football since FIFA’s acceptance of Palestine to membership in 1998, offers Palestine identity, in Eric Hobsbawm‘s phrase, by providing “a team of eleven named people” to stand in for a fractured whole. The Israeli Committee against House Demolitions, which organizes nonviolent resistance against land seizures and the destruction of Palestinian homes, sponsored the world premiere of Goal Dreams in Jun 06 by projecting the film onto the wall itself—“an endless line of 26 foot concrete slabs,” writes ICAHD’s Jeff Halper at Tikkun, “running through the campus of al-Quds University in the West Bank town of Abu Dis” (“Watching World Cup Soccer on the Wall,” 27 Jun 06). Halper continues:

I was moved to say what often wells up in me when I see common people coping with checkpoints, with unimaginable suffering and constant harrassment, with a 40-year Occupation that threatens to become a full-fledged apartheid regime in the next few months (in which, horror of horrors, my people are cast as the Afrikaners)—and that is, kol hakavod [all honor] to Palestinians who maintain their humanity, their sanity, the very fabric of their lives under inhumane conditions, who even insist that their country be represented with all the others on the football pitch.

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