Elevate Difference

Football Under Cover

I encountered one major problem with Football Under Cover very early on: it wouldn’t play either on my U.S. regional DVD player or through a few of the many video players on my computer. Eventually, I managed to get it to run in Windows Media Center and sat down to watch.

The earliest scenes were so well done, I started to doubt my own memory. This was supposed to be a documentary on the first international match for the Iranian women’s international football team. (Football, of course, is what people in the U.S. call soccer.) What came up on my monitor, however, could easily be mistaken for a feature film. After watching the first ten or fifteen minutes, I had to find out, so I stopped the DVD and pulled up my favorite search engine. Yes, Football Under Cover is a documentary, an extraordinarily well filmed and edited documentary, but a documentary nonetheless.

As impressive as the filmmakers’ technique was, the story it captures is even more so. A young German woman named Marlene Assmann, a member of an amateur football team from Berlin, hears from an Iranian friend, director Ayat Najafi, that the Iranian women’s team has never played a match despite a great deal of training. The two decide that Assmann’s team, BSV AL-Dersimspor, will go to Iran to play against them. Together, they struggle through the various obstacles posed by the Iranian bureaucracy and the escalation of political tensions to get an official invitation for a match.

As the young Germans prepare for and undertake their trip to the Islamic Republic of Iran, the clash of cultures is examined thoroughly and sensitively. The best stories, however, come from the Iranian side. The simple act of being a female footballer in Iran must be courageous in and of itself, but the women we meet often go one step further. Iranian team member Niloofar Basir admits on camera to practicing in a local park disguised as a boy, questions the dual standards for behavior in the university, and challenges her nation’s record on human rights for women. Female spectators, who are normally forbidden to visit the nation’s sports arenas, respond to a warning from their “moral guardians” by chanting about the denial of their freedoms and their right to attend the stadium. In light of Iranian women’s leading role in the recent opposition protests against the “election” of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, these scenes are even more inspiring.

Even if you have to watch this film on your computer, do it. The Iranian women alone will make you proud to be a woman and a feminist.

Written by: Melinda Barton, October 11th 2009