By Charles Hallman
A new documentary about an Iraqi women’s basketball team will be featured at the second annual Tucker Center Film Festival on January 30 at the University of Minnesota’s football stadium club room. The event, presented by the school’s athletic department, is on the eve of the 26th annual National Girls and Women in Sports Day, which is celebrated each year on February 1.
Salaam Dunk is San Francisco-based filmmaker David Fine’s first feature film. He said during a recent phone interview with the MSR, “I’ve always been fascinated with America’s role in Iraq from the 1990s. I think most people think Iraq is where women really don’t do much of anything at all. I found that not to be the case. It’s a very diverse place in a whole lot of ways. I wanted to show a very different side of Iraq.”
Fine followed the Iraqi female student-athletes at the American University of Iraq-Sulaimani in Kurdistan, which is located in “a different part of Iraq where there are greater freedoms,” the filmmaker pointed out.
Salaam Dunk ended up differently than what he first imagined. At first, “I didn’t think the coach would have much to do with the story [and] how much he meant to them [the players],” he explained. “I think it is really important in a documentary [to tell] where the strongest story is.”
The team was cooperative and there were “surprisingly few” trust issues he had to overcome with them, Fine said. “They needed to know that the story I wanted to tell was the one they wanted told.”
Fine said he showed the film in Iraq last year. The players liked it, but they offered some criticism as well. “They were so much a team, a family, that they were sort of confused by the fact that the film focused on a couple of girls individually as opposed to [all of them],” he recalled.
“I think sports are covered in the wrong way,” Fine believes, “just like I think stories from Iraq are covered in the wrong way. There is a certain way that people are used to digesting information through the media. When it comes to Iraq, it’s about war and death.”
Find would like to see a “new paradigm” used when it comes to sports coverage: “We can’t say that there is not enough coverage of sport, but are there more inspiring stories? There are stories to tell around athletes that sport is so important in their lives.
“I am really interested in telling stories about sport,” affirmed Fine, whose first effort was a 12-minute short on a Connecticut youth hockey team and the players’ parents he filmed as a thesis while he was in college. “I’m very comfortable telling stories that have to do with sports and teams.”
His production company is currently working on a year-long series that will premiere on YouTube’s original content channel in April.
“I’m really excited to screen the film in front of an audience who are really interested in women’s athletics,” Fine said about Salaam Dunk at this year’s festival. “Overall, I [would] like people to walk away from the film with a greater appreciation of the younger Iraqi [people].”
The Tucker Center festival also will show Grappling Girls, a locally produced short film on women’s wrestling, and Ready to Fly, a film on women ski jumpers.
The Univ. of Minnesota’s football stadium is at 2009 University Ave. SE in Minneapolis. Doors open at 6:30 pm, and the films begin at 7 pm. Tickets are $7 ($5 for students) in advance (plus fees) and $10 the day of show. More information on the film festival is available by contacting the Tucker Center at 612-625-7327 or www.tuckercenter.org.
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to email@example.com.