Running for life

Ghazi Nujidat's 'Town of Runners’ is sure to enlighten Anthropological Film Festival audience.

'Town of Runners' (photo credit: Courtesy)
'Town of Runners'
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Next Tuesday to Thursday, the Jerusalem Cinematheque and the Hebrew University’s Sociology and Anthropology Department will get together to present a bunch of thought-provoking, and moving, documentaries as part of the second annual Anthropological Film Festival.
The subject matter covers a very wide range of mind-sets, cultures and endeavor at locations around the world. We take a look at a crumbling vestige of colonial megalomania in Mozambique in Grande Hotel, get an eyeful of an incongruously dapper African rapper in Sunday in Brazzaville, and dip into a timeless way of life in rural Transylvania in Off the Beaten Track, while The Light in Her Eyes brings us back into this part of the world and offers a glimpse of an amazing Syrian woman’s effort to ensure young girls in Damascus get an equal share of the education and professional pie there.
Each screening will be accompanied by a talk or discussion hosted by an expert in the relevant field, and there will be workshops as well as musical entertainment. The showing of Off the Beaten Track, for example, will be augmented by a talk by celebrated author Aharon Appelfeld who was born in Romania, while Ghazi Nujidat will enlighten his audience about some of the logistics to be negotiated, and the benefits to be gained, from training young girls from socioeconomically disadvantaged backgrounds to become successful athletes. Nujidat’s talk will follow a screening of Town of Runners, which tells the tale of a couple of teenaged girls’ attempts to make the athletics grade in rural Ethiopia.
Nujidat hails from the Arab village Buiena-Nujidat, on the edge of Beit Netofa Valley in the Lower Galilee. Today, he works for the Sports Administration at the Culture and Sport Ministry and, as such, is responsible for relevant activities across the north of the country. In a previous professional guise, Nujidat worked with the Galilean counterparts of the central figures in Town of Runners.
“I tried to promote empowerment of women and to allow girls there to realize their potential, and to fulfill a dream through their legs,” he says.
But he had his work cut out for him when he invested long hours in training teenage girls from the village in various track and field events. Nujidat got a preview of Town of Runners and says it took him back to his time in Buiena-Nujidat where, he says, he was generally in the role of chief cook and bottle washer.
“I used to coach the girls when they ran through the [Beit Netofa] valley, through the mud, and pick up their sports shoes after the training sessions.”
He says the day-to-day grind, the aspirations and some of the social issues he encountered during his time in Buiena-Nujidat are echoed in the sentiments of Town of Runners. But in a way, Nujidat had a harder time than the Ethiopian trainers. In Town of Runners the members of the community are fully supportive of the local girls’ efforts to nurture their sporting talents and make a better life for themselves elsewhere. Meanwhile, there were some cultural minefields to be to be navigated before the aspiring youngsters in the Galilee could get out there to pound the valley and, subsequently, some of the top tracks in the country.
“The main challenge was to get people in the village on board, and to allow the girls to develop their sporting abilities,” notes Nujidat. “I could deal with the athletics challenges, but I had to slowly but surely convince the families and members of the community to allow the girls to get on with their running.”
There were cultural and religious obstacles to be overcome, with the latter proving the more testing.
“I made sure, for instance, that when we went off to a competition, especially if it involved an overnight stay, there was a woman with us who accompanied the girls,” explains Nujidat. “I kept in touch with all the families, and always asked if anyone wanted to come with us to races. I had to keep my wits about me constantly.”
Some of the religious considerations involved the thorny issue of modesty.
“I told the parents and the girls that there are all sorts of options when it comes to what the girls wear when they are competing.
I am not strict on that matter but I told them the girls could wear short pants and a T-shirt, they could wear leggings with the pants and they could even cover their head. I had one girl who took part in the national athletics championships at Hadar Yosef [in north Tel Aviv] wearing a head scarf. It’s hard work but you can always find solutions.”
All the sweat and elbow grease eventually began to pay off.
“It evolved over time, like when you throw a pebble into a pool of water. Things began to resonate to ever widening circles, inside and outside the community,” Nujidat explains. “The girls began competing in local meets, then national competitions and some even took part in world championships for schools.”
Nujidat says he identifies strongly with what he saw in Town of Runners, and that he was also a little envious of the Ethiopians.
“I was jealous of all the open spaces they have there to run in.
And there was the support of the parents, who allowed the girls to go away from the village to further their athletics activities.”
Mind you, not everything was rosy in the Ethiopian garden, reminding Nujidat of some of the perils of his home turf.
“They have politics getting in the way in Ethiopia, too, but when I coached the girls I could only dream of the level of support the Ethiopians got. But we did our best.” For more information about the Anthropological Film Festival: 565-4333 and