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

One cannot be sure what went wrong in the process of creating Tiro libre, but Soza’s name becomes unattached from the project sometime in 2005 or 2006. In 2005, writing for the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, he promotes a six-minute teaser for the film, screened in Chicago as a fund-raising and educational tool. He tells Raab of his and Piña’s fellow feeling for the Palestinian cause, given Chileans’ experience with authoritarian rule under Pinochet and the large Palestinian community in Chile, tracing lineage to the so-called Four Jorges who were part of an 1850s’ exodus during the Crimean War (see Mark Holston, “Proud Palestinians of Chile,” Américas, November/December 2005, p. 5). “We were not unfamiliar with the word ‘Palestino,’ ” says Soza, referring to Club Deportivo Palestino, a first-division team in Santiago founded by Palestinian immigrants in 1920. The team plays in the traditional Palestinian colors of red, green and white.

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Football as an influence on Israel’s relationships with her neighbors comes through in the report on Abu Ghosh-Mevaserret and its match against a Druze side from the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. For more on unified Arab-Israeli teams, see the recent documentaries Sons of Sakhnin United and We Too Have No Other Land (4:53). (© 2008 Football’s Hidden Story)

The idea for Tiro libre was to focus on several players, including those who came from the Palestinian diaspora community. In the most recent qualifying campaign, for the 2010 World Cup, the side included at least one American, Omar Jarun, now with the Vancouver Whitecaps. The pursuit of such stories across continents adds to the movie’s appeal, but also to the expense. In an interview with El Comercio (Quito) at the Trieste festival last year, Piña says he logged time in 13 countries and in 20 cities. The film’s entry in Trieste lists four countries of origin: Chile, the United States, Egypt and Kuwait. Piña tells the Chicago Reader that he spent $350,000 on the film, although the trail of comments, reputedly from Soza and those with insider knowledge of the situation, alleges that Soza’s former colleague did not maintain accountability with investors.

To some extent, the comments seek to cast doubt on Piña’s own claims of allegiance with the Palestinian cause. A former film student at Columbia College and a doctoral student in social and cultural anthropology at the University of Illinois—both campuses in Chicago—Piña in his interview with El Comercio says that “my generation grew up in the Chilean dictatorship, and we are marked. Whenever I saw the Palestinian cause it was as the Chilean cause. In my country there are 500,000 Palestinians, and my first love was a Palestinian girl” (Carla Maldonado, “Un joven chileno hizo un gol en Trieste con el conflicto palestino”).

He expands his story in the interview with the Chicago paper, recalling his early memories of the Augusto Pinochet regime, which took power in a 1973 coup. Piña remembers kids setting up barricades and clashing with police in his Santiago neighborhood: “The cops came and started shooting and we had to go under the bed. I could hear the bullet shells falling on the roof of my house. Winters in the early 80s felt a lot more gray and cold and hopeless. I thought, ‘Is this ever going to end? Am I always going to live like this?’ ”

Among 350 hours of footage shot for Tiro libre is an interview with Yasser Arafat in Mar 04, not long before his death in November of that year. Arafat takes tea with players and hands each a $1,000 bonus check.

The Palestinian side’s 2010 World Cup qualifying adventure already has concluded. They lost a two-leg elimination qualifier to Singapore in fall 07, assessed a 0–3 loss in the second leg, by forfeit, when they were barred from traveling by Israeli authorities. This time no cameras would have been present.

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