2021 Sundance Docs in Focus: CAPTAINS OF ZAATARI

Courtesy of Sundance Institute

Ali El Arabi follows the soccer dreams of two teenage best friends living in the titular Syrian refugee camp.

Festival Section:
World Cinema Documentary Competition


Sundance Program Description:

Like many young people around the world, best friends Fawzi and Mahmoud are obsessed with soccer. But for the past several years, the teenagers have been stuck in Zaatari, the world’s largest camp for Syrian refugees, located in Jordan. With uncertain legal status and an interrupted education, their prospects are limited. On the local soccer pitch, however, they can imagine a brighter future as professional athletes, a path to escaping the camp and providing for their families. When scouts from a world-renowned Qatari sports academy visit Zaatari, Fawzi and Mahmoud believe they might be able to realize their dreams—if given the opportunity. 

Making his feature directorial debut, Ali El Arabi crafts an intimate portrait of friendship and of enduring hope in the face of the most challenging odds. Employing an observational approach, El Arabi captures indelible moments—late-night bantering between best friends, anguish over unexpected setbacks, the boys joyfully running barefoot through a soccer field—that immerse the audience in Fawzi and Mahmoud’s experiences—and in their dreams.

Some Background:

Ali El Arabi
First Sundance credit. Founder, Ambient Light. El Arabi has a background directing and producing for Egypt’s Dream TV, as well as producing nonfiction for broadcasters in the Middle East and North Africa, including ZDF, Stern TV Germany, and National Geographic.

Michael Henrichs
First Sundance credit. Producer, Die Gesellschaft DGS. Henrichs has previously produced fiction and nonfiction projects that have screened at Cannes, Venice, Berlin, Toronto, Rotterdam, San Sebastian, and Busan, among other notable events.

Amjad Abu Alala
First Sundance credit. Abu Alala is a United Arab Emirates-based Sudanese director and producer. His fiction feature debut, YOU WILL DIE AT TWENTY, won the best debut feature at Venice.

Aya Dowara
First Sundance credit. Dowara previously was a cultural specialist at the Public Affairs office of the US Embassy in Cairo and, before that, in the United Nations Development Program. She also co-founded Qestas, a youth-led Egyptian NGO focused on peace, development, and human rights.

Consulting Producers:
Daniel J Chalfen
Past Sundance docs:

Co-founder, Naked Edge Films. Chalfen is a Peabody and duPont-winning and Emmy-nominated producer. He is a past Sundance Creative Producing Doc Lab creative advisor.

Mark Lotfy
First Sundance credit. Owner/manager, Fig Leaf Studios. Lotfy is an Egyptian producer and director who has had projects screen at Cannes, San Sebastian, Karlovy Vary, Dubai, and London, among other notable fests.

Associate Producer:
Esraa El Mowafy
First Sundance credit.

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Filed under Documentary, Film, Film Festivals, Recommendations, Sundance

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