You know how people talk about how Jaws ‘isn’t really just about a shark’? Similar could be said for Freedom Fields, a documentary about football that isn’t ‘just’ about football. It’s actually an intimate look at post-revolution Libya, with our entry point being the country’s aspiring women’s football team.
The documentary starts just one year after the revolution and one day before the team is due to finally form and get going. After years of hoping for the team, ‘tomorrow the real thing begins’. But when it does, the team are condemned by many and they soon find themselves ‘struggling to convince society to accept them’. Religion plays a huge part in this condemnation, and the players are swamped by both media and public attention. Unable to participate in tournaments due to fears for their safety, momentum is lost. Things pick up again, then are lost again. The pattern continues.
What remains clear throughout is the team’s passion for the sport and the game they so dearly love. Their struggle for any form of acceptance is reflected in their lives beyond football, as one of them reflects ‘What kind of life are we living here?’ Post-revolution there was hope for change, for the challenges and obstacles facing women in contemporary Libyan society to be less obtrusive, for an increase in their freedoms – it’s a hope that gets dampened repeatedly but never becomes fully extinguished.
That is what makes Freedom Fields such a compelling watch and a truly necessary one. The restrictions present within the lives of these women exist now, in the 21st century – something that is all too easy for those of us in the West to forget. There’s brief moments of juxtaposition that serve as reminders of this, when one of the players sings along to Adele when driving her car or when a group celebrating chant along with The White Stripes ‘Seven Nation Army’. Each of the women featured cannot live her life to the fullest due to the restrictions within her society. Although change may have theoretically occurred in her country via the revolution, it is not true change if it only affects a few instead of all.
At times the film is an uncomfortable watch, we’ve been given access to their lives to such an extent we find ourselves emphatically experiencing the frustrations they feel. But it also means we get to experience the joys they feel along the way, there are victories as well as losses – they just may not be as large a victory as they deserve. But no matter what occurs, the sisterhood remains.
Empowering, vibrant and vital.
Freedom Fields in in UK cinemas now.