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An American documentary captures the odds against being a soccer player from Somalia

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After his surprise election in March, the first country the newly-elected chairman of the Confederation of African Football (CAF) visited was Somalia. Ahmad—who only goes by one name—visited the Somali capital Mogadishu in mid-April and said the country could start hosting international games yet again. Ahmad even went as far as asking Somalia and neighboring Djibouti to organize friendly matches in Mogadishu.

But that will be a task easier said than done. Mogadishu Stadium, Somalia’s largest sports complex, still acts as a base for the African Union troops fighting the terrorist group al-Shabaab. The group still attacks at will and even killed the heads of Somalia’s soccer federation and the Olympic committee in 2012. Somali athletes and swimmers have also frequently fled the country—one of them even dying while trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea.

But as the nation embarks on a slow political and economic recovery, sports is also making a comeback. Since 2011, mini-stadiums and neighborhood playgrounds have been renovated. Local companies are competing to sponsor soccer leagues, and foreign coaches and players from across Africa are flocking into the country to boost the profession. Girls are also returning to the court to play basketball—to the cheers of friends and families.

It is in this hopeful moment that the documentary Men in the Arena is being launched. The movie which, like the 1990s American basketball documentary Hoop Dreams, follows the story of two soccer players. Saadiq Mohamud and Sa’ad Hussein: two rivals on the pitch share a passion for Somalia’s most popular sport: soccer. Both players, however, unexpectedly find themselves on the same side when they are recruited for the under-18 Somali National Team. The two carry their country’s hope on their shoulders, even as they chase their professional dreams of playing outside Somalia.

“We made this film to humanize a people and a place that has been through an unimaginable quarter century of challenges,” J.R. Biersmith, the film’s director and co-producer, told Quartz. For Sa’ad and Saadiq, those incredible odds manifested in fleeing al-Shabaab’s reign of terror, and subsequently facing ethnic profiling and police harassment in Kenya.

After a friend sends around video footage of him playing to coaches, Saadiq lands a try-out with a US university and secures a visa to travel to the United States. Sa’ad, who by then had left Mogadishu, also enters the refugee resettlement program and goes to the US in March 2016. But their troubles don’t end there: after Donald Trump became president, he proposed to ban citizens and refugees from seven countries—including Somalia—from coming into the US.

“Both of them came to this country believing that the fear they’ve lived with all of their lives would dissipate,” Biersmith said, “but the travel bans and other anti-immigrant rhetoric brings it all back.” His hope is that the documentary will widen the narrow lens of fear and show the “outsized dreams” of Somali soccer players.

“The truth is now out there for the world to see,” he said.

DOCUMENTARY FILMS

Aamir Khan: The snake charmer – Witness

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Aamir Khan is one of the most popular and influential Bollywood actors in India today. He became a star of Hindi cinema in the 1980s, and his greatest commercial successes have been the highest-grossing Bollywood films of all time.

Yet in 2012, Khan’s career took an unexpected turn. Together with a childhood friend, he created a TV series called Satyamev Jayate which became the first prime time TV show in India to expose the country’s most critical social issues – from rape to female foeticide and dowry killings.

Aamir Khan was used to portraying macho men on a quest for vengeance and belongs to an industry accused of denigrating women and encouraging sexual violence.

But now, the 48 year old actor with Peter Pan charm risks his career by challenging men to re-examine their attitudes and behavior towards women, confronting the spiraling wave of gender-based violence in India and defying age-old stereotypes.

The snake charmer follows Khan on a journey through India’s TV and Bollywood film industry, as he attempts to change the way Indians perceive and treat women.

From the set of Satyamev Jayate, the film follows Aamir Khan backstage to his new Bollywood blockbuster Dangal.

Khan’s quest ultimately opens a window into a country in crisis and into the changes it is undergoing.

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Arts & Culture

Kenyan-Somali, black, Muslim and Canadian: new doc explores Canada’s hyphenated identities

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Short documentary ‘Hyphen-Nation’ by 22-year-old Torontonian puts five black women in conversation

A new documentary by a 22-year-old Toronto filmmaker is analyzing what is means to be an immigrant in Canada.

Directed and produced by Samah Ali, Hyphen-Nation features a 14-minute conversation between five women of colour that is inspired by her own cultural experience.

The women discuss how their cultural heritage influences their identities as Canadians and immigrants.

“The whole conversation is what’s your hyphen?” explained Ali, calling her debut film a “nuanced” discussion about what black Canadian identities look like.

“And that’s what opens it up to so many people to identify with because whether it’s themselves or their family members who have an immigration story, everybody typically has a hyphen.”

The women are asked if they identify with being black Canadians.

Ali explains this is both liberating and tragic. She identifies as a Kenyan-Somali woman, along with a Muslim woman and a black woman.

“I don’t know if I identify strongly as a Canadian, but definitely when I leave Canada I identify as a Canadian,” she said despite being born and raised in Toronto.

“The other parts of my identity, the ones that are more visible, the ones that I practice everyday are definitely the ones that are on the forefront of my mind. Compared to my Canadianness, it’s something that I’m not really aware of until I have my passport and I’m travelling to other countries.”
Sojin Chun, programmer for Regent Park Film Festival, says the short documentary captures the theme of the festival.

“We really want to show different narratives that you wouldn’t normally see through other means, through the mainstream media,” she said.

The three day event is free and showcases the work of women of colour which reflects Toronto’s east end neighbourhood.

“We really make sure we represent all the cultures that are present in Regent Park,” said Chun.

Ali explains this is why she wanted Hyphen-Nation to premiere at the film festival.

“I want this film to foster a greater community, not only in Canada, but also worldwide.”

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Movies

A Young Somali Finds Refuge in UK, and Boxing

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Charlie Watts, a young filmmaker based in Manchester, has created a powerful short documentary called STRIVE, which tells the story of Idris Ahmed, a refugee desperate to improve his life, and that of his family.

Ahmed, originally from Somalia, was born into violence, with civil war ravaging his country.

In the film, Ahmed recalls his early memories from Somalia. “I was seeing the majority of the time dead people,” he says. “It becomes normal when you are hearing gunshots every night.”

In boxing, Ahmad found a way of channeling his anger and pain, and coping with these challenges. Now a young man, he dreams of taking his passion in life to the next level. “I am at a point where I have something, and I want to achieve great things,” he says. “I’m gonna keep going.”

“I just want to live my life to the fullest,” he adds.

“I am at a point where I have something, and I want to achieve great things”

STRIVE beautifully tells the story of Ahmad’s journey from childhood to adulthood in the UK. The film captures the challenges of dislocation and the resilience and perseverance of refugees.  It is set to premier in London next month.

You can find out more about Charlie’s work on his website: http://www.charliewatts32.com

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