Dir. Francesco Cannito, Luca Cusani (2008, Italy, 54 mins.)
Inshallah means ‘God willing,’ the implication of this title being, “God willing, we’re going to the Olympics in Beijing.” No other team in the world face the challenges that Palestinian athletes do in reaching the Olympics. Palestine isn’t an organized state, the bureaucracy is in shambles, sport is not a priority for the Palestinian Authority, there is no funding to speak of, and the athletes must train without benefit of facilities. Though this documentary has all the elements of a tragedy, it is anything but tragic. Rather, it is a hopeful and inspiring story that mixes elements of uproarious comedy with quiet determination.
The amount of comedy in this film is a surprise. A great deal of it comes directly from the athletes themselves, who display good-natured tenacity in the face of absurd opposition. When members of the Palestinian Olympic Committee are late for an appointment, runner Ghadir disparages them as monopoly men with top hats and cigars, only to greet them with a polite “God keep you!” when they finally show up. Similar juxtaposition shows up when the headmistress of Ghadir’s school clucks that Palestinian girls are not allowed to date and the next shot is of Ghadir talking about her boyfriend.
The turn the film takes when the team finally reaches China for pre-training is also a source of surprise. The documentary turns into one of culture shock as the Palestinians get used to China and try to deal with Olympic class training. At home, the Palestinians only complete against a handful of athletes; the Chinese athletics program is comprised of millions. However, the Palestinians continue to react to their situation with pluck and resolve, and the humorous tone continues.
This film is decidedly apolitical. To be sure, Palestine’s tumultuous relationship with Israel dictates the athlete’s conditions, but the four athletes in Palestine’s Olympic team are fairly unconcerned with broad political questions. Rather, they are focused on their training, their families, and on simply getting to the Olympics.
Sports documentaries are almost always about athletes overcoming odds, confronting personal demons, and achieving victory. This documentary, however, does not define victory as a gold medal; victory is simply making it to the competition. A bittersweet message, perhaps, but a worthwhile one.