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When soccer films tell a bigger story

By Li Jing | China Daily Europe | Updated: 2017-10-15 10:56

Goal of festival's sports documentary program is to inspire and educate

Khalid Bakri, who was a soccer player in his homeland of Sudan and now lives in Beijing, has a dream.

"I hope one day to coach a Chinese soccer league club," he says.

To that end, Bakri, 32, who is currently a coach at Pinggu No 8 elementary school in Beijing, is studying coaching at Beijing Sport University.

When soccer films tell a bigger story

Yan Xinmin, the organizer of the second Goal! China Football Film Festival, chose 25 documentaries from more than 100 that she found either at film festivals or through friends' recommendations.

Bakri came to Beijing in 2011 with his father. While studying Chinese and obtaining his master's degree in design at the Beijing Institute of Technology, he started coaching soccer for children in his spare time. After graduation, he became a professional coach and has since trained hundreds of Chinese children.

The story of Bakri - the only African coach in a soccer-training project involving Beijing's elementary schools and Beijing Guoan Football Club - is featured in the documentary film Match Day.

It was one of six documentaries screened at the Goethe-Institut China in Beijing on Oct 3 as part of the second Goal! China Football Film Festival.

Over three months beginning on Oct 3, 25 documentaries from eight countries will be shown in six cities in China.

Yan Xinmin, the organizer of the event, chose 25 documentaries from more than 100 that she found either at film festivals or through friends' recommendations.

Alive & Kicking: The Soccer Grannies of South Africa, which features a group of soccer-playing older women, was shown at the Doc NYC Film Festival in the United States in 2015.

"It was director Lara-Ann de Wet's graduation project - a group of soccer grannies ranging in age from 50s to 80s who kick their way through centuries of taboos and fulfill their dream of competing for glory in Limpopo (province) in South Africa," Yan says.

Thanks to the internet, Yan managed to contact the director and bought the rights to screen the film. "The director has become a New York City-based freelance filmmaker and is working on the sequel," she adds. "I am looking forward to that."

Instead of choosing films centering around soccer stars and frantic fans, Yan focused on ordinary people. "Stories are inspiring when they adopt social perspectives," she says. "Refugees, religion, ethnicity and culture - this is what the films are about. Soccer is the medium, a language with which to tell stories."

Another of the films, Beirut Parc - Kids Seeking Refuge in Football, is by directors Matthias Frickel and Henning Hesse.

Beirut Parc is a football pitch in Lebanon's capital, a focal point of the global refugee crisis. Child refugees from Syria meet kids there from Lebanon and Palestine who only know their homeland from stories told by their grandparents.

The film delves into the everyday activities of the youngsters, who normally live very different lives. But for the six weeks of 'Soccer Camp Lebanon, they come together for the first time.

"When they play football, they forget their ordeal and their displacement and dream of a better life out in the big, wide world," says Li Yan, the mother of a 5-year-old son.

Li watched the film with her son and explained it to him. "He didn't totally understand it and keeps asking me about it," Li says. "The children in the film are only a few years older than my son. They are in a totally different world. I hope my son can get an idea of how different things are around the world."

The audience for the first day of the festival consisted more of film lovers than soccer fans. "Sports films might not be the most popular genre for them. But I hope they found resonance and inspiration," Yan says. "If more young people could watch these films, they might know more about the sport and the world."

Yan is familiar with the power of images. She used to work as a director at China Central Television and later became a commissioner for Beijing International Sports Film Week.

"Two years of working with events brought my attention to sports films," Yan says.

In her opinion, European documentaries and films are more topical and society-focused. That's why most of the ones shown at the festival are from the Europe, with five from Germany - the most from a single country.

A love of soccer inspired her to volunteer to organize the festival for a second year.

"I played football when I was a kid, playing in the hutong with the boys," Yan says. "Now I am 47 and I am still playing. Of course, all my teammates are men."

Seeing more African people, like Bakri, coming to China for soccer, Yan has been putting together ideas for her own documentary.

"It is like a new Gold Rush," she says. "These Africans consider China a land full of football lovers, and they are coming to chase their football dreams, hoping to make a name or big money in China."

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