Naziha Arebi (director)
31 May 2019 (released)
28 May 2019
Filmed over five years Freedom Fields is a documentary that has the fall of Gaddafi and the violent aftermath as a backdrop for the trials and tribulations of the Libyan women’s football team as they try to get a foothold domestically and internationally. In the process they inadvertently unleash forces that will repercussions for years to come.
Beginning one year after the revolution the team, already eight years old - though never having played a match - is on tenterhooks as to if they will be allowed to play in a small tournament in Germany. These are dashed for some very odd reasons, and it’s at this point that director Naziha Arebi threads out the narrative to concentrate on three of the players as they documentary progresses.
The women are from different social backgrounds and different parts of the country, they take the hits of the joys and the dumps in their own way. Through face to face interviews and fly on the wall they talk about their aspirations for the team, for themselves and for the women of Libya. As one explains, it’s not about playing football per se that the authorities fear, it’s that it is the thin edge of the wedge. The drama of the politics and sport is interwoven with sound of gunfire that peppers the night air and the power cuts. The latter catches the team during a secret training session but with some goodwill and quick-thinking they continue using the beams from car headlights.
There’s the daily grind of life, those displaced from their hometown not knowing if they will ever be able to return. And there’s seemingly endless battles against the blatant prejudice that permeates some sections of Libyan society, mixed with general indifference and cultural mores. It’s a complicated society that has presumably encouraged women to study and take positions of responsibility, to then be abused for wanting to play football.
The struggles with the authorities take its toll as the women look beyond the game they love to play. Some drop out of the game to marry, concentrate on their education, another carries on only to be frustrated by custom and security. However, after five years, there’s an opportunity to get the team back together and play in a tournament in Lebanon.
It is wonderfully shot. Arebi’s subtle camerawork is never intrusive just there capturing the events as officials and managers dig themselves into ever deeper holes. While vividly relaying the enthusiasm, bravery and banter of the team. And Katya Mihailova’s soundtrack is a rock throughout; a supple blend of traditional song and more experimental electronica.
The football story is the spine of the film and that allows Arebi to prise open a country and society that is deeply damaged by conflict and very much in the hands of an old guard. The outlook appears bleak but as the film shows Libya has young, vibrant, highly educated women that respect their culture and religion but at the same time want to be respected for their achievements and determined to fulfil their potential.