Captains of Zaatari

Captains of Zaatari follows the highs and lows of two boys, Fawzi and Mahmoud, as they try to follow their dreams of becoming footballers. They are Syrian refugees in the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan, where there are few opportunities, but football provides a way out.

I’ll be honest, I saw the first few opening shots, with slow motion and plinky-plonky music and I worried the film might be sentimental. But it’s actually surprisingly empowering. It can be difficult showing the hardship of refugee life without it becoming one-note, and robbing refugees of the full roundness of their human existence. Captains of Zaatari shows the heartbreak of separation and exile, the frustration and poverty, but also the friendship, family, and community life of the camp. Fawzi and Mahmoud are still just teenage boys, with crushes on girls, and an obsession with football. And the film doesn’t show them as passive victims of this horrible war and displacement, but with agency in their own lives, having their own goals and pursuing them.

As someone with no interest in football, it is still a compelling film, as you follow the human drama of seeing these boys reach for their dreams, and try to make their families and their people proud. As the talent scouts come to see them play in the camp, and doors open to play in an international sports academy, it is weird to see these kids who play barefoot on gravel be transported to hotels full of jacuzzi baths.

All in all, a really encouraging film, great to see a film where the hope, talent and tenacity of refugees is put front and centre, not just their suffering.