Free Zone

You would think that the sport is on the very last place in minds of Palestinians with all hell they live in. Oh but that’s very incorrect! They will drop everything they are doing to watch they national football (soccer) team and instantly forget all problems. Palestinian sport commentator has described their bid to qualify to World Cup 2006 as “one of our most beautiful dreams.”

Goal DreamsGoal Dreams, lovely film directed by Maya Sanbar and Jeffery Saunders is telling us the emotional path of the Palestine national team while its players are gathering from all over the world to play under the same flag and represent their nation on the international stage. It is quite unique story and is showing in very untraditional and very original way Israeli-Palestinian conflict and its effect on the lives of Palestinians.

The team is on the preparation in Ismailiya in Egypt for the crucial match against the national team of Uzbekistan which supposes to be held in 30 days in Qatar (because of obvious reason it can’t be in Palestine). The team’s coach, Austrian Alfred Riedl is having numerous problems.“We are unique in the world; we don’t even have a country! We have to practice here [Ismailiya]… we don’t know what we are, who we are?” said Mr. Riedl but that’s hardly his only problem. Namely 30 days before the match the team is short several players (mostly the ones from Gaza). Players who are there aren’t speak the same language; there is one New Yorker who speaks English only of course; few from Santiago de Chile among them one speaks English; one from Madrid, Sweden, a few from Egypt who speak Arabic; later is coming one from Lebanon who speaks Arabic as well. And there are missing players from Gaza (Arabic). Coach is speaking English (and is cursing in Serbian which was such a huge surprise and the whole audience has burst of laughing. We asked Mr. Saunders who was guest of the festival does he have an explanation but he didn’t) so it was kind of Babylonian Tower in small. Just imagine the final version of coach’s words after passing the process of three translations!

The basic idea with gathering players for the team was their origin. They had to be Palestinians in any (even stretched sense) so many of them were for the first time in the region (not in the land) where their ancestors were born many, many years ago. Naturally all of them were bringing different way of thinking, different mentality, different cultural heritage but also very different style of playing soccer.

So the story follows the days in Ismailiya but also we are moving in New York or Chile or Lebanon to see lives of expatriated Palestinians and how they are preserving that core of who they really are. The player from Lebanon introduces the audience to the reality of life in Palestinian refugee camps, with the scarcity of work and opportunities as well as the daily struggle for survival.

Naturally the worst situation is with the part of the team which supposes to come from Gaza. Israeli part of the border is closed and no one has idea when it’ll be reopened. They are trying several times to cross the border and each time they (along with hundreds of other people) had to go back. Once there were gun shooting at the frontier and guys didn’t even raise their eyes to see what’s going on; they were sitting and joking like nothing is happening around them. One of them said “Oh this is nothing unusual; this is part of our everyday life. We could have a training drill here while waiting”. I must say that I recognized Serbian mentality in these words.
And the time is passing. So 10 days before the match the team still doesn’t have enough players and the ones who are there are in linguistic mud.
So the coach’s mood is in one moment filled with determination to make a strong team capable to win qualifying match and in the next moment is like broken under incredible obstacles his team is facing with.

“Goal Dreams” is a testament to the power of the Palestinian dream and to the Palestinian people’s ability to hold onto the hope in spite the horrifying reality in which are living.
One of the last scenes in the film is showing player from Lebanon and behind him huge Adidas billboard with David Beckham and the message Impossible is Nothing.


Yesterday was the opening day of my favourite film festival Free Zone. It is festival of involved film (probably my favourite genre, because it’s (the only one?) without boundaries, because life is its boundary. The industrial production of moving pictures inevitably led to an overabundance of film heroes, to the banality of their missions and to the commercialization of their idealism and to the indifference of the audience. Casual meaningless heroism dominates most of today’s films.

Free Zone offers a different kind of film hero in feature films and documentaries. These heroes are different in their constitution, origin, geography, their burden and, perhaps most importantly, in their existential quality. They are ordinary people who have made, daringly and fearlessly, the hardest choice – to take life in their own hands. Weather by refusing to accept the fate chosen for them by the society, challenging injustice, questioning establishment and traditional relationships and taboos in societies they live in, or truly believing on the possibility of change and the creation of better world, the directors and heroes of these films realize that the belief in choice is what differentiates civilization from barbarism, that civilization means involvement and choice means responsibility.

In next few days you can expect my reviews about movies I’m going to see on the festival.


PersepolisFirst film was beautiful Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud; adaptation on the acclaimed graphic novel based on director M. Satrapi’s own life.

This breathtaking animated film is a poignant story of an outspoken young girl coming age in Iran during Islamic Revolution. Hope that revolution has had and disappointing changes it has brought. It is very personal and very emotional story with magnificent portraits of her family members. One might be surprised with modern language and modern look on life. It’s strange to see girl with black headscarf jumping and screaming with “Iron Maiden”. Political struggle, repression of the regime, foreign involvement in producing that misery is so clear and sharp.

This is statement of Marjane Satrapi about her film:

“This isn’t a politically orientated film with the message to sell. It is first and foremost a film about my love for my family. However, if Western audiences end up considering Iranians as human beings just like the rest of us, and not as abstract notions like “Islamic fundamentalists”, “terrorists”, or the “Axis of Evil” then I feel like I’ve done something”

Well, I’m not the one who will change my view about Iranians after this film. After years of learning Farsi and knowing many Iranians I never thought they’re “terrorists” or whatever. On the other hand I’m not sure could I be considered as a member of “Western audience” either.

This is French submission for the next Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film and don’t be surprised at all if it wins the Oscar.

638 Ways to kill CastroDo you think this title sounds ludicrous? Oh, probably it does but it only sounds…

Yesterday (26th July) was one of the most important national holidays in Cuba (maybe even the most important). However if you follow US press you’d ask yourself “Why on Earth they celebrate that day??? They should erase it from their nation’s memory!” and that would be quite reasonable question when you see this title: July 26th Marks Anniversary Of Castro’s Failure, Cuban Revolution
Isn’t that tremendously malicious when you know how that “failure” has raised national spirit to struggle against the regime, when you know that was the dawn of Revolution? (truth maybe I founded isolated article but still)

For those of you who don’t know 26th July 1953 is the day of the attack on the Moncada Barracks which failed indeed but there were many casualties on both sides. Castro was arrested and since he was/is a lawyer has decided to defend himself. In his speech he said historical sentence ”History Will Absolve Me”, sentence which became the foundation of the 26th July Movement. For more about attack, trial and whatnot you should check great film by Yanara Guayasamin “Cuba, the Value of Utopia” (my review is HERE). (I just wanna stress here that I’m not expressing my opinion is Castro good president or dictator?)

But let’s go back on the topic. I don’t know does the date has anything with it but yesterday I watched this amazing film 638 Ways to Kill Castro directed by Dollan Cannel (check the link) as a part of Free Zone festival.
At first, indeed I thought the title is kind of sarcastic exaggeration but NO IT’S NOT! It’s a story about 638 recorded attempts of Castro’s assassination!

And gosh, you should see that. It’s as if you are watching one of the James Bond movies. It’s a collection of the most impossible and most bizarre ideas you could(n’t) imagine!

Exploding cigar that was intended to blow up in Castro’s face is one of those. Since Castro was fascinated with scuba-diving CIA made search of Caribbean mollusks looking for a shell to contain lethal quantity of explosives, which would be painted vividly to attract Castro’s attention; Then making toxic diving-suit; poison pills; bacterial poison (Clostridium botulinum) to be placed in Castro’s handkerchief or in his tea and coffee; poisoned cigars; CIA has even made agreement with mafia to assassinate Castro … etc

Here is little statistics: During Kennedy there were 42 attempts; Nixon 184; Carter 44; Regan 197; Bush senior 16, Clinton 21

We could see testimonials of people who participated in those attempts, former FBI and CIA agents. One of them have ”as being Catholic” (who ”don’t believe he’ll go in paradise”) had moral dilemma but then he said to himself: “Government is asking that from me so who the hell am I to worry about me?” WOW someone would say that is patriotic!

But to be honest what shocked me the most (I guess I’m too naïve) is the treatment that those evident terrorists have in US (one of them is calling Bush administration “allies”). Namely we can see people who are openly talking about their attempts to kill one foreign leader how freely live in Florida with their families and having business and are financing other groups who are still attempting to kill Castro!?!? On the journalists question “Do you think you are terrorist” one of them (Antonio Veciana I think) replies “yes, I was terrorist then”. Just like that! I didn’t know that acts of terrorism have dead line after which everything is OK.

Or with Orlando Bosch, man who is prototype of terrorist. He organized airplane crash 1976 of the Cubana air company by putting bomb in the plane. It has 73 victims, all civilians; the only Cuban “officials” were members of Cuban fencing representation (all teenagers).

He was arrested but Republican Congresspersons Ileana Ross and Connie Mack organized intensive lobbying for him and eventually President George H. Bush has released him from jail. On the journalists question is he responsible for that plane crash Orlando Bosch replies “Not only for that one. They are accusing me for plane crash above Jamaica and for crash of cargo-plane above Cuba. And I say In war everything is allowed and I’m in war against Fidel Castro”. Those are words of a man who received personal pardon from then president George Bush in spite of the arguments and protests.

In fact many of those men who would be undoubtedly qualified as terrorists in any other country or even in the States if they their target is not Castro are friends of president Busch’s family. We can see them on many photographs with both Georges and Jeb Busch, current governor of Florida. Man who ordered execution of Che Guevara, Felix Rodriguez has a gift with this note: “With highest esteem and admiration – George Busch”

Many of these assassinators-in-attempts are living in Florida as I said but they even have a game in which they are killing Castro every month. It is absolutely ridiculous game which reminds on paintball where everyone wears uniforms, weapons and they are sneaking around the house where “Castro” (with the beard of course) have a meeting with his gang. Then suddenly they are jumping in the house, taking “Castro” outside where he begs for his life. Then they ask “Castro” why he killed so many people and he replies (falling on the knees) “Oh forgive me! Forgive me!” Naturally every month they are showing no mercy.

You can’t imagine how idiotic that looks. And those people (there is entire anti-Castro organization) are personal friends of Jeb Busch.

Former US diplomat in Cuba Mr. Wayne Smith (executive secretary of President Kennedy’s Latin American Task Force and chief of mission at the U.S. Interests Section in Havana) quoted Mr George W. Busch (there is part of that speech in the film as well) when he said that “everyone who is hiding, protecting, supporting, financing terrorists is a terrorist himself” and he absolutely agreed with him and added “but that is precisely what US government is doing with these terrorists. So isn’t Busch terrorist as well?”

Well maybe he’s not. Maybe he just read book written by some other, much, much clever George (who must be right. Right?). And there it says very clearly:

All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others”


Iraq In Fragments
by James Longley

I watched at Free Zone Film Festval another amazing film:
Iraq In Fragments by James Longley

This is breathtaking portrait of lives of ordinary people in Iraq after aggression and one of the most noticeable consequence that can be seen is that indeed Iraq is fragmented.

In first part (fragment) we see painfully lonely 11 year old fatherless boy who works in garage whose owner ‘owns’ the boy as well. This man at first shows some kind of “love” in his own rough way and a boy is giving him a tribute how he is actually kind to him in one very moving way while we are looking how the owner is shouting at the boy and use him and hitting him with … something. We are listen conversations between adults how they think whole this war is because of the oil; how Americans ended Saddam’s regime and now they live under “100 Saddam”

In the second fragment, south with Shias majority we are seeing their pre election campaign and how they (Shias) are vigorously prosecute new Islamic revolution with horrifying arrests because of selling alcohol. One of the arrested said (screamingly in despair with bounded hands and with covered eyes) “My eyes were covered and hands bounded during Saddam and now, now again!!! Why!?!? Why?!?” It’s a rising of new “Saddamism” or more likely something much worse.

In third fragment, we see pious Kurdish man whose hope is that Kurds will finally get their country and independence. He knows he’s close to death (and decided to dedicate those days in praying in the mosque) but he is hoping that his children will breathe air in their country, Kurdistan. He knows that Kurds, Sunnis and Shias will never live in peace in the same land.

After the projection guests were Veljko Đurović (cameraman for Sky News, Reuters etc) and lady (I can’t remember her name at the moment, sorry) who came back in Belgrade recently after two years in Iraq working with some international organizations. Interesting thing is that both of them are saying how Iraqis are one of the most hospitable people in the world; Reporter said that he has worked on so many battle fields in last decade in every corner of the world but he never met people so kind in spite the fact the bombs are falling constantly. Lady (guest) has told us how women from her class have risked their lives to go and buy cake in other part of the town for her Christmass.

Also in the film you can barely see woman. It should be stressed that Iraq was one of the most liberated countries in Middle East. Few years ago women were free to go in University in mini skirt and actually life style was not so different comparing with Europe or USA. Now the situation is completely different. You cannot see that image anymore.
Of course people are in despair and they have enemy (Saddam is dead). And that despair have united them and (and this is probably worst consequence) has changed them.

People with millenniums old tradition, with customs with dignity, have been invaded by forces that have shown no interest in their customs, in their tradition, which have shown no respect in whom they are and where they came. They have been invaded by endless ignorance. And lack of respect is often worse than so many other things. To honorable people word is stronger weapon than a bullet.
Invaders often ask themselves “Why they hate us?” and the answer is “Because you don’t respect them”.

So of course they have changed under these circumstances, they become less hospitable and become sadder, more disappointed, angrier, more radical. Yes disappointment, sadness, anger is making fertile soil to fanaticism. And that is real threat. Country has been fractured irreparably. Boy from the beginning of the film said:
“Once it was so beautiful… now it’s not beautiful anymore …
I was dreaming when I grow up I will work; I’ll learn how to work and be independent. Then I started to work and keep dreaming how I’ll work when I grow up for my family and have one good life. I’m working, but I’m not dreaming anymore”

Those are words of 11 year old kid! How can you kill ability of dreaming to a kid? How can you do that and not be responsible? And be so ignorant?

That old Kurdish man said one story:
“Two men are wrestling and one spectator asks another:
– What do you think, who’ll win? On whose side is God?
And the other one replies:
– God is always on the winner’s side”

That is not God I believe in.
(today is 8th anniversary of NATO aggression on my country)

Cuba, the Value of Utopia
Yanara Guayasamin

After the premiere on The International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam (IDFA), world’s biggest documentary film festival “Cuba, the Value of Utopia” by Yanara Guayasamin from Ecuador the Belgrade audience was the first to see it at Free Zone festival of ‘involved’ movie.

This socially-committed documentary is an exciting story of the Cuban revolutionaries who in 1959 fought shoulder-to-shoulder with Fidel Castro, won a victory and power in Cuba. It shows the everyday life today and memories of old revolutionaries including Castro himself. They remember the time when they risked their lives to make the dream come true. In the oral tradition, various Cubans report on oppression, violence, arrests, kidnappings, shootouts, escapes, the guerrilla fight from the mountains and the subsequent triumphant entry into Havana.

It’s a breath taking story about one idea and its enormous value. It shows stories from the Batista’s regime and what initiated its fall. Narrators are common people, participants in revolutionary movement and as I wrote, Fidel himself. While they are telling they experience to the camera we can see their everyday activities (except Castro’s of course), where they live, how they live, what their dreams are and how they see revolution now after 47 years.

Every one of them is very proud of what they have done and very proud of their lieder. Indeed, Castro was enormously charismatic and brave young man. His story, the way how he defended himself on the court (“History will set me free”), how he organized his return on Cuba after being banned from the island, how he fought and organized guerilla …etc. it really force you to think is it really true or he is some character from some cheep pulp fiction production? One of those who always win and the bullets are magically avoid him. Really incredible person. And to be honest I didn’t expect that kind of movie.
Title indicates disappointment but it hardly can be seen on the faces of those protagonists.
Indeed, houses where they are living are very poor, bricks in the walls can seen, kitchen accessories are kind of medieval, tables, chairs, paintings, beds, dishes, …etc. is at least 50 years old. BUT those people are happy.

Friend asked me after projection have I saw similarity between Cubans and us 10 years ago (she saw). I haven’t because we were in despair, we had one ‘perfect’ land which was falling apart. We were deeply unhappy nation because some horrible things has been made in our name (against our will), of course horrible things has been committed on each side but somehow we were the ones who paid the biggest price (and we still are paying it). My friend told me that our ex president maybe wanted to be like Fidel (we were also under the sanctions, probably the worst sanctions in history) and that was one of the similarity she saw. Well, we didn’t love our president; on the contrary, huge majority of the population wanted end of his regime. With Cuba is different situation: huge majority supports Fidel and are very proud for what he have done. And now when I had some closer look on the Cuban history I’d be proud on that man too.
Of course I don’t speak about his regime after revolution but on some level I could understand how it must be difficult have America so close and be hated by American government for such a long time. It has devastating effect on life of common people (if ship sail into Cuban port it has prohibition to sail into any US port for 6 months). One young man who’s girlfriend is in Spain said “People are leaving Cuba not because of political issues but economical”. How beautifully naïve…

At the beginning of the movie one man is telling us how he was in shock when he heard that Earth is rotating. “How is that possible? How I don’t fall from the planet?” The teacher said “so it said in encyclopedia”.
“Encyclopedia” ever since that day the man was dreaming to have encyclopedia.
Imagine that dream? That need for knowledge and such a limited possibilities?
Eventually he bought encyclopedia some 15 years after that day when he received his first salary.
Somewhere he said “The greatest treasure for young people are dreams. Person without dreams can’t be happy, and I don’t think about few pair of jeans or to have different shampoo … that can give you satisfaction maybe but will not make you happy. There is huge difference between happiness and satisfaction. The worst enemy of happiness is banality…”

The price for freedom has turned out to be a high one; they admit that they do not live lives of ease, but they would not want to swap their dignified life for the banal consumerism that the United States forces on the world. Looking back on the revolution has its charm, but the upcoming battle will be more important.

Free Zone Film Festival in Belgrade is festival of “involved movie” often quite controversial. This time was not exception. Yesterday there were two Dutch movies with the theme “Women and Islam”. And the guests on the debate after projections were director of the second movie Ms Merel Beernink and Belgrade’s Imam Mr. Mohamed Jusufspahic.

First movie was worldwide known Submission by Theo Van Gogh

The movie deals with the topic of violence against women in Islamic societies; telling the stories of four abused Muslim women. The title itself, “Submission”, is the translation of the word “Islam” in English.
The film is controversial. It was perceived as insulting by many Muslims, and several people loyal to Hirsi Ali’s (scrip writer) cause against abuse and oppression of women expressed doubts about the effectiveness of this film, fearing that it would only polarize positions.

After the movie was released in 2004, both van Gogh and Hirsi Ali received death threats. On November 2, 2004, Theo van Gogh was murdered by Mohammed Bouyeri. A letter pinned to the body with a dagger linked the murder to Van Gogh’s film and his views regarding Islam. It called for jihad against kafir (kafir is an Arabic word for someone who does not believe in God), America, Europe, the Netherlands and Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

After the murder of Theo van Gogh, Submission gained international fame. It was withdrawn from a film festival in Rotterdam, but was shown on television in a number of European countries.

The movie was no doubt quite shocking but for different reasons for Muslims and those who aren’t Muslims. Namely it’s story about abused women, promised to their husbands at the age of 16 and their hell-marriage. Their faces were covered but not the rest of the bodies which are covered with bruises and livid marks but also covered with tattoos with verses from The Holly Koran. Their acceptance of that kind of life in His name and obeying His word about marriage, their complete submission was terrifying.

On the other hand what was terrifying (and insulting) for Muslims was the fact that she has her body covered with verses from the Holly Book. And debate was in that directions. As a Christian I cannot comment feeling of Muslims but if someone would tattooed Our Lord on the body I would accepted that dumb rather than insulting.
What was strange that the accent on that discussion was precisely on verses on the body while bruises were completely ignored.

So the question is Is religion (fate) for maltreated women in traditional Muslim communities in the same time their consolation but also their cage?

Second movie was That Paradise Will Be Mine by Merel Beernink

that paradise will be mine

A frank portrayal of what it means to be a Dutch Muslim, this eye-opening film follows the lives of three women dealing with the consequences of their choice to convert to Islam. Rather than pressing the women for the reasons behind their choice, director Merel Beernink takes a close look at their day-to-day lives, letting them speak candidly about how they feel in their new cultural and religious context.
Issues of marriage and relationship loom large for all three women. Astrid, who had a brief but unhappy arranged marriage, is now living with her parents and looking for a husband. Inge is considering a move to Cairo to marry her Egyptian fiancé. Rabia is married to a Muslim man and struggling with matters such as polygamy and homosexuality. Their perspectives are complemented by revealing and often touching interviews with their parents. Capturing these women’s struggle to reconcile the expectations of their families and friends with the demands of their new conviction, Beernink’s intimate portraits offer fascinating insight into to why it is so difficult for those brought up in Western culture to choose a different kind of life.

On the debate director, Ms Beernink said that she wanted to explore why these young women have decide to “give up her freedom” and with that she expressed her view on their decision. The Netherlands is country probably with the highest level of social freedom and it was interesting to see reaction of the family members of these young women but also their adaptation on the new (restricted) liberties. One of the theory is that tendency is a result precisely of that unlimited freedom; that they were seeking one frame of social behavior in which they will feel secure. And they have found it in Islam.

Director said that in the process of making this film she followed 200 women but decided to make movie about only these who decided that because their sincere beliefs and fate. (many of them have converted themselves because of Muslim boyfriend etc)
What was quite interesting is that one of them who has Muslim boyfriend (but after she took Islam) was “better” Muslim that he who is Moroccan and Muslim by his birth. And as director said, that is very often the case with all converted Muslims.
On the other hand we could see that total acceptance is still might be a problem, they are putting make up (which is forbidden in Islam) or watching TV (also forbidden) etc.

Interesting this is what the one of the girls said “If I found a husband I’ll tell him I am a Muslim but my family is Dutch and not Muslim and that HAS TO BE RESPECTED!” so I wondering if the need for that ultimatum are showing intolerance justified by religion?