by Farrah Fray
In 2019, Freedom Fields will be screening at Glasgow Film Festival, One World Romania, Thinking Football Film Festival, Wow Wales One World Film Festival and many others. There are special event screenings planned internationally as well as in the MENA Region for 2019, including the UK Theatrical Release in May.
Set against the backdrop of post-revolutionary Libya, Freedom Fields is a documentary that follows the journey of three women attempting to represent their country through football. Fadwa is an aspiring oil engineer; Halima, a soon to be doctor, and Nama, a Tawerghian internally displaced refugee and athlete. The film—Naziha Arebi’s directorial debut—is the first ever feature length film to come out of Libya by a Libyan, let alone by a woman.
Filmed over the course of five years, Freedom Fields bears witness to the power of women when faced with challenges. It’s one of the rare films that, whilst specific in content, taps into a shared universal memory through the vehicle of football. From the tumultuous state of Libya after Gaddafi’s death, to the rise of extremist advocates, as well as the country’s violently fractured political state, the women of the football team find themselves navigating both the past and present, private and public, personal and political to achieve their goal.
For most audiences, myself included, this is the first time we are given a look inside the aspiring Libyan national women’s team, as well as their lives and pursuits. For others, scenes such as Tripoli’s celebrations during the revolution’s one-year anniversary may be familiar. However, Freedom Fields provides an unparalleled delicacy in bringing to its audiences the often-private conversations of post-revolutionary Libya. Personal conversations nuance and enrich the coverage and attention previously given to the country, whilst offering an alternative narrative for freedom.
While the film is visually stunning, it’s the juxtaposition of different settings that sets it apart. Far from bleeding into existentialism, the seemingly mundane, fleeting, and poignant of Libyan life are brought together in moments that could only be captured through five years of filming. In one scene, we see Fadwa, calm and smiling, sitting on a chair at night, talking about how she sewed her own button on for the first time as we hear gunfire in the background. In another, Halima, during a shift at the pharmacy, declares that if one wants to play football, then that is their desire.
Later, moments of Libya’s famous match against Zimbabwe during the African Cup are captured, before shifting to men cheering upon Libya scoring a goal, and Halima in a car asking herself, “Why can’t we have a women’s team like the men; do we not honor you?” Another close and personal shot shows Halima is in her car again, singing along to Adele’s “Someone Like You” during a rainy day in Tripoli.
Later we are given access to Nama’s struggles and ambitions, most notably as she speaks of how the abandonment of her hometown Tawergha has left it dark and empty. Laced in dim, neutral, and blue tones, the director gives us a glimpse into the darkness and deepness of Nama’s pain. The cinematography of Freedom Fields truly shines in these types of scenes; with tangerines, blue and yellow hues amplifying the warmth and intimacy of Arebi’s camera work. Every shot feels deep-seated and personal.
Despite the differences between Fadwa, Halima, and Nama’s backgrounds and interests outside of football, we see their journeys propelled by strength, will, and determination in equal measure. These are the very words they shout in unison before every match they play; whether in Libya or in Lebanon, against Egypt, Jordan, or Palestine. Together, they overcome mental, emotional, and physical hardship to ascertain an unwavering belief in the magnitude of their own power. This reaches its peak after a successful match against Palestine, where Fadwa’s voice slips across the pitch, saying, “You start running. It breaks the fear barrier.”
The women’s own internal conflicts don’t simply stem from finding football difficult to master, but rather, are the result of the different constraining, cultural, and societal factors that exclude them from being in the field. Towards the very end of the film, we see young girls sitting in a football workshop organized by HERA, Fadwa, Halima, and Nama’s newly founded NGO. Halima asks the girls in front of her, “And if a woman wants to be president, why can’t she?” Freedom Fields is unapologetically raw, intimate, and honest in a way that art should be to create change in how society treats both men and women.
Despite the ensuing triumphs and disappointments of the different matches that the girls play, achievements related to football are not a separate chapter to other struggles faced; but rather an intrinsic part of the bigger stories of these women, as they mediate between friendships, family relationships, sexism, extremism, and their desire to play football. Besides the physical sense, football becomes something that can also be understood as a metaphor for fulfilling desire. Much like anything relating to football, Freedom Fields is about using self-belief to move forward and achieve happiness. Perhaps the most important lesson that audiences will take away from the film is that ‘progress’ isn’t linear; it oscillates like a pendulum in motion, often faltering into the past before moving forward.
The art of moving forward is constantly imagined in the film. This is perhaps most poignant in the very first conversations of the film between Fadwa and her team mates, as she describes their past endeavors as “beginnings without endings”—a touching scene that we cannot help but remember throughout the film. It seems that, as the film ends, these women are rewriting their stories and creating new pursuits. It is fitting, then, that the film concludes with a shot of Nama running towards the camera.
From its carefully crafted approach, to the richness of Fadwa, Halima, and Nama’s stories as both players and women in Libya, Arebi succeeds in bringing the authentically personal, female, and Libyan to the big screen.
Freedom Fields world premiered in September 2018 at Toronto International Film Festival, closely followed by its UK premiere at BFI London International film festival, with sold out screenings and standing ovations at both. It then traveled to Mumbai Film Festival, Stockholm International Film Festival, IDFA and was the opening film at Ajyal Film Festival. Freedom Fields has picked up the award for Best Film at Joburg International Film Festival, and Best Documentary at Karama Human Rights Film Festival.
For more information:
Twitter & Instagram: @freefieldsfilm
Farrah Fray is a writer, activist and poet studying in London by way of Libya. She has written for Kinguistics as well as Letters ly Libya and translated for Haawiyat, a Syrian comic aimed at refugees. Her work navigates explorations of culture, displacement, feminism and identity with a focus on Libya and London.