Freedom Fields

Freedom Fields

Directed by Naziha Arebi
Picturehouse, Liverpool
30th May 2019

Reviewed by Lisa Worth

Freedom Fields at FACT is a remarkable bit of film making, directed by Naziha Arebi. The documentary follows a football mad group of Libyan women who are determined – against the odds – to play, not just watch.

The film was previously shown in Manchester, home to the largest Libyan diaspora in the UK, and the majority of the audience were hijabi wearing women.

Naziha Arebi said: “It was emotional – they said they never see themselves on screen as protagonists, only the badly treated poor person, or the person doing wrong.” The film opens in a house with an electrical outage, symptomatic of a crumbling pre-revolution Libya. One of the women is showing off her football posters by candlelight, finally settling on her hero, Messi. She talks about her team being funded for an overseas tour and sits on her bed, chin in her hands, lost in her world of football. No matter the political chaos bubbling up outside.

That tour didn’t happen, but we follow their journey as the team battles to stay together, combating religious conservatism, misogyny, lack of facilities and sponsorship, and the strict cultural expectations imposed upon daughters.

Filmed over five years, Naziha Arebi’s Libyan father first took her to the country before the revolution when she made contact with the football team. She returned to spend a few years living there, getting to know it and the women in the team intimately.

In one scene we see the team in their pre – match huddle chanting: “Determination, will, strength”, which they have in abundance. They train in car headlights, against the pressure of their society to conform, and ignoring histrionic claims from an Islamic cleric that they were peddling nudity.

There’s real humour in the piece too. Not least when their coach tempers their enthusiasm at a tournament, reminding them that they don’t know about the offside rule, they haven’t worked on corners, and they have no defence. Then a voice pipes up “And we haven’t practised our fouls!”

The belief in success never wavered, drawing their strength from each other. One of them is threatened with expulsion from a tournament because of an interview she took part in. As the organisers call out the name of the offending girl, they reply in unison: “We’re all Fadwa!” And therein is the resonance. Anyone who was not pretty enough, tall enough, thin enough, rich enough, white enough, confident enough to have our potential recognised, we are all Fadwa.

The film raises some important issues that still restrict individual and societal development across the world. But it’s the humanity, love and joy that really rings out. As two of the team are cruising down the highway, one of them hanging out of the car window, drinking in the wind while flying her flag, and another, radiant, singing Bonnie Tyler’s old hit “Total Eclipse of the Heart”, you just want to stand up and shout at the screen “You go girls!” And perhaps even reach for a pair of football boots.

Freedom Fields is self – distributing alongside a limited theatre release. If you know of an organisation that would like to screen it, go onto to: Twitter: @FreeFieldsFilm Instagram: @freefieldsfilm.

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