DUBAI: Almost 10 years in the past, Egyptian filmmaker Ali El-Arabi, the award-winning documentarian behind “Captains of Zaatari,” which hits Netflix this month, made a promise. He was within the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan, the biggest momentary settlement of displaced Syrians on the earth, and a teenaged boy he had simply met named Fawzi Qatleesh requested if he may converse his fact to the digicam.
“On the primary day I arrived, he requested me, ‘Ali, are you able to movie me? I need to say one thing to the folks exterior of this camp.’ The second he began to speak, I mentioned to myself, ‘This boy is my hero,’” El-Arabi tells Arab Information.
Qatleesh had desires. He needed to turn out to be an expert footballer. Extra importantly, he needed the folks exterior these fences to know the reality of the refugee expertise. He didn’t need pity, he advised El-Arabi, he solely needed alternative.
Because the movie hits Netflix this month within the Center East, El-Arabi is overjoyed. Lastly, after seven years of filming and a years-long international competition tour, his promise is fulfilled.
“I misplaced some huge cash, to be sincere, as a result of I refused to promote the movie to a smaller platform which may restrict its attain. That was for Fawzi — due to that promise I made him on the primary day. I advised him to say what was in his coronary heart, and I might inform everybody on the earth his story. That has been my mission ever since,” says El-Arabi.
El-Arabi knew what it felt wish to have a message that folks wanted to listen to. He was himself as soon as an athlete, a devoted and profitable martial artist, even successful Egypt’s nationwide kickboxing championship. Through the Egyptian revolution, nonetheless, El-Arabi deserted any future he may need in sport, as an alternative turning in direction of filmmaking.
“I began to really feel I had one thing to say, however I couldn’t say it with my voice,” he says. “I spotted filmmaking was the best way I may say it. I began making small documentaries about what was occurring and screening them on the street. In the future, the police got here and I took my movie and I ran. That made me notice the facility of what I may say with a digicam.”
El-Arabi left Egypt, partnering with the ZDF TV channel to movie documentaries in warfare zones together with Iraq, Syria, Kurdistan and Afghanistan. Conflict reporting, nonetheless, was unfulfilling, because it so usually stripped away the humanity of these caught in its horrors.
“Refugees and the victims within the warfare had been all simply numbers. It was the information, and the information simply needed statistics,” El-Arabi says. “I couldn’t course of it that method. These had been folks, and I knew there was extra happening than the information may report.”
After assembly Qatleesh and his buddy Mahmoud Dagher — the 2 boys he would finally observe from the refugee camp in Jordan all the best way to an elite soccer program within the Gulf — El-Arabi filmed them for seven years earlier than whittling their story right down to a scant 75 minutes, leading to a narrative that confirmed their unbelievable journey whereas additionally refusing to gloss over the realities of refugee life.
Nonetheless, the movie is bursting with hope, and El-Arabi’s proudest moments have come displaying the movie to not the skin world, as he initially meant, however to these in comparable circumstances to Dagher and Qatleesh when he first discovered them.
“We screened it at a refugee camp in Lebanon, and individual after individual got here as much as me to inform me that, for the primary time, they might take into consideration the long run. They mentioned the movie confirmed them that they might not solely have desires, they might obtain them. I’ll always remember that,” El-Arabi says.
Since its restricted launch in 2021, the movie has already reworked the lives of each younger males whose story it follows.
“They’re stars now. They really feel it. Even some soccer golf equipment have watched the movie and need to give them alternatives,” El-Arabi says. “The federal government of Jordan and the leaders within the camps respect them. Kids within the camps need to them as position fashions. I converse to them on a regular basis, and it’s fantastic to look at, despite the fact that additionally they really feel the strain from their households that they should begin delivering on their promise as quickly as doable, and reworking their scenario too.
Whereas he could also be carried out telling their story, El-Arabi has been arduous at work over the previous couple of years on one other — “Ashish’s Journey” — concerning the upcoming FIFA World Cup. It’s impressed by a person who approached him in Qatar as he filmed “Captains of Zaatari.”
“An Indian man got here to me at some point and requested if he may take an image with me. He thought I used to be a soccer participant, and he advised me he needed to ship the image again to his household,” El-Arabi explains. “He advised me, ‘I got here right here to look at the World Cup. However I didn’t have cash to return, so I got here right here to work now, in order that I may meet the well-known gamers at some point. I believed you had been one in all them.’”
The extra time El-Arabi spent with the person, the extra his harmless aspirations intrigued him, main him to not solely movie Ashish in Qatar, however to observe him and his household again to India, even including fictional components (with Ashish taking part in himself) impressed by the basic French satirical novella “Candide” to the docu-film.
“He’s truly an excellent actor,” El-Arabi says.
Whereas El-Arabi is aware of that he’ll end filming later this yr on the World Cup, chronicling Ashish’s adventures throughout the video games, he doesn’t plan to hurry the movie out within the instant aftermath of the occasion.
“I need to savor the fabric. I don’t need to rush it for an enormous competition. I like engaged on this movie. I don’t need to kill the method — kill the whole lot I’ve put into this — simply to have one thing carried out quick,” he says.
El-Arabi has different tasks within the works as properly. He’s at present producing a movie about Algeria and discussing producing an upcoming undertaking along with his finest buddy Mohamed Diab, the director of Marvel’s “Moon Knight.” Closest to his coronary heart, although, is the fiction movie he has within the works between Los Angeles and Egypt, impressed by each his personal historical past in boxing and his relationship along with his father.
“We’re speaking to main worldwide stars (about) it,” he says. “It’s a narrative that takes quite a bit from my very own experiences with my household, and almost each time I pitch it to folks they cry. One individual I work intently with, as quickly as I completed, mentioned they needed to depart room to name their father.”
Whereas telling Arab tales will stay a key a part of El-Arabi’s profession shifting ahead, finally what drives him shouldn’t be capturing his id — it’s capturing his soul.
“I’ll inform Arab tales, however I don’t assume quite a bit about telling tales concerning the Arab world,” he says. “I take into consideration people. That’s all I’m curious about.”