Freedom Fields

Libyan filmmaker Naziha Arebi creates a vivid and honest portrait of post-revolution Libya by following the hurdles that the women of an all-female football team face to see their dreams come true.

“I shouldn’t have to choose marriage over football. Or football over marriage. But that’s what I did.” On a beach, two years after the Libyan revolution, Fadwa, one of the young players of Libya’s women’s football team, comments on the disheartening reality of her country. Full of hope after the Arab Spring, people thought that a new era in Libya’s history had finally come – an era of freedom, democracy, and equal rights. They couldn’t have been more wrong. With a similar optimism and a touch of naivete, the members of Libya’s women’s team tried to pursue their dream of participating in their first international tournament. Little did they know that both the Libyan Football Federation and their own country were utterly against giving them the chance. Visiting her Father’s country for the first time, director Naziha Arebi meets with the team and starts her own investigation into what happened in the aftermath of the rebellion and how the fate of Libya’s women’s team unfolds. The result is her documentary debut feature, FREEDOM FIELDS.

Covering a span of four years after the revolutionary forces overthrew Colonel Gaddafi, FREEDOM FIELDS looks closely at the lives of three women who met on the field and became friends: Fadwa, Halima, and Nama. Although coming from different backgrounds, all three share a love of football and are willing to put everything on the line when confronting the members of the National Football Federation on the matter of the team’s participation in a tournament in Germany. The challenges these women need to face are endless, especially when they realise that support is negated even by society at large. Whereas men are encouraged to play football, and their victories fuel and soothe people’s hearts, women are harshly judged for expressing the same desire. It could be a matter of the uniform they’re wearing or the simple enough habit of having women under men’s rule. “They chose tall, young, beautiful girls for the team and for months their legs are exposed” shouts a preacher in a mosque demanding the team to be disbanded. For many in this society, today it is allowing women to play football and fly abroad for tournaments; tomorrow it will be granting them more freedom and rights. It’s no wonder that for integralists exercising control starts with small things, and Arebi doesn’t shy away from making this clear throughout her narrative.

“In the central section of the film football is inevitably cast aside, and attention is devoted to offering a social and political commentary on Libya’s situation as told through the eyes of the film’s protagonists. The narrative informing these central years might lack some kick but it’s a necessary enough inclusion and gives the film both its structure and its stance.”

Documenting slices of everyday life but also the women’s tireless efforts to obtain any kind of support and carry on with their lives, Arebi’s cinematography delivers in every shot, charging the scenes with dynamic empathy. As years pass by and the team is only apparently disbanded, FREEDOM FIELDS accompanies Fadwa, Halima, and Nama in different seasons of their lives. In the central section of the film football is inevitably cast aside, and attention is devoted to offering a social and political commentary on Libya’s situation as told through the eyes of the film’s protagonists. The narrative informing these central years might lack some kick but it’s a necessary inclusion and gives the film both its structure and its stance. As remarkable as this documentary debut is, its storytelling needs a touch of improvement but flaws pertain more to the clarity side than to a general enjoyment of the story told.

While watching FREEDOM FIELDS it’s clear that Arebi had plenty of material to include in her film, so the final product is overflowing with possibilities. Overall, it’s a solid performance bursting with hope and desperation in equal measure.

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