Thursday 11 October 2018

Freedom Fields (Naziha Arebi, 2018)

Freedom Fields, a production backed by the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam (via its Bertha Fund), is a likeable look at Libya's female footballers.  Women's football has enjoyed a much higher profile in recent years, with both media coverage and general awareness greatly increasing.  The fact that so many clubs and nations now field skilled and competitive teams is a welcome sign of progress, and the 2015 World Cup in Canada was broadcast to many countries around the world (the film, coincidentally, is a Canadian co-production).  However, and despite the wide acceptance in mainstream sporting circles, there will always be some women who remain truly up against it as they strive to play.  Such a struggle is endured by the women of Libya's national side, who, despite operating in post-Arab Spring times, find official backing hard to come by as they push to take part in an international tournament.

While football is a huge deal - and motivating factor - for these women, we get to glimpse other aspects of their lives; one is training to be a doctor, another is a petro-physicist, and there's some affecting insight into how the turmoil in Libya has left some displaced with little chance of returning to their proper homes.  With the struggles already facing the women, you really wish they'd catch a break as far as football is concerned; one member of the team poignantly points out - after things go a bit wrong in a match - that to be Libyan is to be unlucky.  Given the herculean efforts evidenced here, which so often produce little or no reward, it's hard to argue with such a statement.

Freedom Fields is an effective and engrossing documentary which follows these intelligent, determined, witty and frequently very funny women as they do all they can to play the beautiful game.  Their perseverance knows few bounds, and shots of the ladies cutting grass by hand as they fashion a training area is a good marker for the dogged approach taken by the group.

Arebi's film, which took many years to make, is nicely photographed (by the director) and deftly edited, and you'll most likely lurch from one emotion to another as you first smile along with the team before going on to share their extreme frustration.  You'll find yourself willing these inspirational women not only to play, but to win.  It screens at the London Film Festival today and tomorrow.

Darren Arnold