Bath Film Festival 2016 – Preview
Documentary | Israel | 2016 | 85 mins | Directed by: Maya Zinshtein | Produced by: Maya Zinshtein, Geoff Arbourne, John Battsek, Nicole Stott | Cinematography: Sergei Freedman, Yaniv Linton, Ross McDonnell | Editors: Justine Wright, Noam Amit
When investigative journalist Maya Zinshtein was asked to film a short segment about the arrival of two Chechen players at the infamous Israeli football team Beiter Jerusalem F.C., she had no idea of the uncontrollable chaos that would ensue within the team and throughout society as a whole.
Israel’s most popular and controversial football club was established in 1936 as part of a nationalist Israeli movement and, to this day, politics and ideology take precedence over football itself. Beitar has always been a powerful symbol and vocal platform for the city’s right-wing Jews, and although there are foreign players in the side, it still remains the only Premier League club to have never signed an Arab.
Zinshtein begins documenting the team during the 2012-13 season, after its Russian billionaire owner Arcadi Gaydamak decides to unexpectedly sign 19-year-old defender Dzhabrail Kadiyev and 23-year-old striker Zaur Sadayev, following a harmless friendly in Chechnya. Although not Arabs, the new players are devout Muslims, which consequently enrages the clubs extremist faction known as ‘La Familia’. The nationalist group took over the eastern bleachers in Beitar’s Teddy Stadium in 2005, and despite providing players with plenty of love, the fans often incurred penalties for the team because of their bad behaviour. They have become notorious for vehement chants that insult Arab players and even proudly boast being ‘the most racist team in the country’. What the unwelcome arrival of the Chechens manages to worryingly expose, is that this inherent racism is not only limited to a few zealots in the eastern terrace.
‘Forever Pure’ reveals the way in which politicians have exploited the club’s immensely loyal fan base to springboard their campaigns, and it is the returned support of these political figures that legitimises the racism in the stadium and allows it to thrive. While laundering money in Israel, after organising arms trafficking during the Angolan Civil War in the 90s, owner Gaydamak ran for mayor of Jerusalem in 2008, and openly financed La Familia to increase his chances. However, he wasn’t as lucky as some of his predecessors, only achieving 3.6% of the vote. Is it possible that the inflammatory acquisition of the Chechens was perhaps an act of revenge for the betrayal of the Jewish public?
After producing the revealing 2010 documentary, Thieves By Law, which charted the rise of Russian organised crime in the wake of the fall of the Soviet Union, Zinshtien sticks to similarly unsavoury subject matter with her directorial debut. When she realised the potential of the Beitar story, she decided to capture the events in their entirety. Amazingly, the director was granted access to all the parties involved, in a threatening, male-dominated environment in which she was a complete stranger.
The film world premiered in competition at the Jerusalem Film Festival and won the awards of Best Documentary and Best Editing. It also screened at TIFF, and as it travels the world it will surely become a major talking point for cinema audiences. It’s message will be particularly important following the news that FIFA disbanded its anti-racism taskforce this September, declaring that it had “completely fulfilled its temporary mission”. However, as ludicrous as this may seem, ‘Forever Pure’ uncovers some fundamental social issues that unfortunately extend beyond the boundaries of the footballing world.
‘Forever Pure’ will be screened at the Chapel Arts Centre as part of Bath Film Festival 2016 on Sunday 6 November, 6:00pm. For more info visit http://www.bathfilmfestival.org.uk