Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Football hope in The Age

Here's some great stuff from The Age today. Two stories which well illustrate the way football can change our society for the better. Just scouting around The Age's website, it seems the Fairfax press is giving soccer a decent go. Better than Murdoch's Courier Mail that's for sure. I'll find some time to have a better look at their blog, Balls Up, later on. I've added it to my links.

Re: The second story, I'll try to catch Offside as soon as I can, and will review it for Football Down Under. As time goes on, when I get hard-up for things to write about, I will get around to belated reviews of Goal! and Bend it Like Beckham as well. I know I keep revealing my ignorance all over the place, but if anyone can tell me of other good football movies, I'd appreciate it.


Soccer lends a helping hand to the homeless
Clare Nullis, Cape Town
September 26, 2006

NEARLY 500 drug addicts, alcoholics, orphans and vagrants have kicked off the Homeless World Cup soccer tournament in Cape Town, celebrating an annual event designed to help society's most marginalised make a new start in life.

South African President Thabo Mbeki and thousands of spectators saluted the flag-waving teams from 48 nations as diverse as Afghanistan, Australia, Scotland, Sweden, the US, Liberia and Zimbabwe as they paraded through Cape Town.

"We really can help change the world, end poverty and homelessness," said organiser Mel Young. "All we have to do is take a little round ball and start kicking it around."

The idea for the street soccer tournament was born in Cape Town in 2001 after an international meeting of editors of street newspapers such as The Big Issue, which is sold by the homeless in Britain, Australia, Namibia and South Africa.

Melbourne will host the event in 2008 at Federation Square, with State Government funding of $500,000.

The rationale behind the event is to instil a sense of pride — and discipline — in the players through being part of a team and help them overcome problems in their lives.

Research published by the organisers said one year after the last Homeless World Cup, in the Scottish capital Edinburgh, 94 per cent of players had new motivation for life, 62 per cent were coping better with alcohol and drug dependency, 40 per cent had improved their housing situation, 38 per cent had regular employment and 28 per cent had opted for more education.

Tracey Ford, a 34-year-old Australian, was homeless for four years after losing her house as a result of drug addiction. She then started as a street paper vendor, trained with Street Socceroos in Melbourne and took part in the 2005 contest.

"I was literally in the gutter and felt depressed, suicidal and at the end of my life," she said. "The Homeless World Cup made me ecstatic, proud. I wanted to tell everyone, tell the whole world. My old life doesn't exist any more because of this."

Ms Ford recently moved into a small home, has reconciled with her children and started part-time work in a laundrette and nearly finished her drug rehabilitation program.

The tournament was endorsed by big names such as former Beatle Ringo Star, Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson and Portuguese soccer great Luis Figo. It was kicked off by Eusebio, a Mozambican-born Portuguese soccer legend.

But despite the big names, it was the little people who were set to take centre stage at the tournament.

People such as Sada Uzumakunda, who lost her home and her family in the 1994 genocide in Rwanda and ended up as an alcoholic street girl. Or Tula Pilar Ferreira, a Brazilian mother of three who outplayed many men to qualify for the Brazilian squad. And Daniel Martinez, whose world fell apart when his father died and who found his new "home" by qualifying for the US squad.

"The atmosphere is brilliant. Everything is brilliant," declared Nicky Meta. "It's like a dream come true."

"It's a great experience. There's nothing like it," beamed Adam Banda, who is recovering from substance abuse.

Each team is sponsored by organisations and companies in their country and some teams have links with soccer teams.


A mirror under the veil - and inside the stadium
By Jake Wilson
September 26, 2006

"I didn't realise I was making a comedy," says the director Jafar Panahi of his new film, set around a football match between Iran and Bahrain during the lead-up to the 2006 World Cup.

Still, as Panahi went about developing the script of Offside, it became hard to ignore the absurdity of the predicament faced by his central characters, a group of Iranian women who have traded their veils for caps and boys' shirts in the hope of being admitted to the all-male event.

Eventually these unlikely rebels, each drawn to the game for her own reasons, find themselves stuck in a holding pen outside the stadium, where a guard explains that women are not permitted to enter in case they are harmed by the foul language of the crowd. "We promise not to listen," one of them responds.

Later, another of the women begs to be escorted inside so she can go to the toilet, but permission is granted only after she agrees to mask herself by attaching a poster of star player Ali Karimi to her face.

Though barely glimpsed on screen, the football match provides a model for the film's narrative: a clear time limit, a struggle between opposing teams, and unpredictable action that spills in all directions around a single central location.

The tension between documentary immediacy and a set of strictly defined formal parameters is a hallmark of Panahi's cinema. So, too, is an overtly expressed anger at the restrictions that Iranian society imposes particularly, but not exclusively, on women.

I spoke to Panahi, a grave yet lively man in his mid-40s, during his brief visit to Australia for this year's Melbourne Film Festival. Answering questions through an interpreter, he stressed the social purpose behind his films - his desire "to go to the streets and portray the events of the day" using "real issues, real people, real locations".

With this in mind, I asked Panahi about his early film The Mirror (1998), an apparently realistic story about a young girl walking through Tehran that takes a surprising turn halfway through, when the lead actress announces that she's tired of her role and sets off home for real.

On a first viewing, The Mirror appeared to be a parable about the deceptive nature of cinema, demonstrating that even the most innocent-looking film story is a carefully constructed illusion.

But surprisingly, Panahi turned this interpretation on its head. Rather than underlining the distinction between art and reality, he intended to suggest that "reality and the imagination are intertwined, they are very similar" and that Iranian cinema itself is like a mirror. "When I see my picture, the picture resembles me."

Panahi's frankness about oppression has made it impossible for him to screen his films in Iran, but even so he is the first to admit that the reflection of society in his work is less than complete. If the battles he shows are fought exclusively out of doors, in the public space of the city, this isn't entirely by choice.

"I have vowed not to tell lies to myself at least," he said. "In Iran you cannot show a woman without the veil, and if you show inside a house where women are living, or even in bed, you have to show in the film as if they have veils, and this is a lie."

Though the ending of Offside depends on the unscripted outcome of the Iran-Bahrain match itself, Panahi said that this project had been germinating in his mind for many years - since 1998, when the Iranian football team returned home in triumph after a match against Australia.

Fans were told to assemble at the football stadium to greet their heroes, and when Panahi and his family went to the stadium to experience the mood of the nation, they were told that 5000 women had forced themselves inside.

"This was reported by the print media, and of course the question was posed why women are not allowed to watch the game," he said. "After the World Cup, the issue died down and no report of that appeared again."

A few years later, however, Panahi's mind returned to the subject after an incident that may have inspired the film's optimistic ending. In 2002, Iran was once again preparing for the World Cup.

"Right away I wanted to go and watch the practice game, and my 11-year-old daughter said that she would like to come with me," said Panahi. "At the stadium entrance, I insisted on bringing my daughter with me, but they didn't allow me.

"And I was there, and 10 minutes later she was there. I said 'How did you come in?' And she said 'Ultimately, a way can be found.' "

Offside opens on Thursday.

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Blogger James said...

I was fortunate to catch OFFSIDE at the Melbourne Intl Film Fest in July. More a movie about the culture surrounding football fanaticism than a film about the game itself. It's quite brilliant and actually stirred me to finally give it up for Iranian football and forgive them for knocking us out of the 1998 World Cup at the final qualification stage. Considering the pain attached to that defeat, that's no simple achievement!

I reviewed OFFSIDE here if you're curious.

September 28, 2006 2:57 pm  
Blogger Hamish said...

Thanks James. The film hasn't hit Brisbane yet, but your review makes me look forward to it all the more. Cheers.

September 28, 2006 3:08 pm  

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