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Goal Dreams, a new documentary focusing on the Palestinian national soccer team, will be premiering in a projection onto the West Bank security barrier in Abu Dis outside of Jerusalem on Thursday evening.
The film follows the story of the team as it struggles to bring its disparate members together to qualify for the 2006 World Cup. Directors Maya Sanbad and Jeffery Saunders worked together to overcome and record the many logistical obstacles involved in bringing the team together - filming in six different countries around the world.
The film is a feature length documentary, chronicling the newly formed Palestinian soccer team's efforts to meet and practice together as they prepare for a qualifying match against Uzbekistan.
FIFA, world soccer's governing body, officially recognized the Palestinian national soccer team in 1998, making it one of the first international organizations to recognize Palestine.
Goal Dreams also follows the personal stories of four team members, each coming from different places and lives, and each with a connection to Palestine. The directors worked to make a film that didn't focus directly on political rhetoric. Instead, they describe the story as "identity driven."
Saunders agreed: "It's set in a soccer environment, but it's not at all a soccer film."
For Sanbad, making the film helped her connect to her heritage. As a half-Palestinian living in London, she spent several years wanting to make a film about Palestine without having to give it an overtly political center. After seeing a news article about the newly-recognized Palestinian team, she was inspired to start work on Goal Dreams.
Sanbad teamed up with Saunders, an American Jew living in New York. He said the project stemmed from a human rather than a religious curiosity. "I wanted to understand my own identity. As an outsider to the region, I found Palestinian culture and Jewish culture so similar - we're brothers in so many ways."
The filming in 2004, and the shoots often proved to be a logistical nightmare.
The soccer team's makeup reflects the reality of the Palestinian community. While many of its players come from the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, many others represent the Palestinian diaspora, coming from as far as Latin America, and as nearby as a Lebanese refugee camp.
Because of travel restrictions on Palestinians entering Israel and crossing from the West Bank to the Strip, the team is unable to assemble locally. When they can, they meet to practice at a training camp in Ismailia, an Egyptian city on the west bank of the Suez Canal.
The crew struggled with constant uncertainty as to where and when they would be able to shoot. At one point, the crew was stuck for 10 days at the Gaza border, trying to get 11 of the team members to the training camp. After ten days, only six made it across.
Sanbad sees these difficulties as representative of the Palestinian experience. "The film shows how these logistical problems have an effect on everyday life," she said. "It shows the weight of waiting and uncertainty, and how that has an effect on something as simple as a football team."
The screening is being sponsored by the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, but Saunders remained upbeat about the nature of the screening. "We wanted a venue where as many people could see the film as possible," he said. "And besides, what's the biggest flat surface that you can find?"
Both directors have high hopes for the film's reception. Saunders told The Jerusalem Post that he hoped the film could help to provide a culture and knowledge bridge.
Sanbad agreed: "It's not accusatory - it's more about showing what normal lives are like, and it shows positive role models for Palestinians."
"The film is a chance to show statehood. It follows players from all over the world coming to represent a country that doesn't exist," Saunders said. "It's not just a cliche - sport is a universal language. And sometimes sport can move faster than politics."
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