Ajyal Film Festival 2022

All Films

Captains of Zaatari

Ajyal Competition, Ajyal at Vox

Ali El Arabi / Feature Documentary / Egypt / 2021 / 75 min / Colour / DCP
In Arabic / English subtitles
Interests: Politics, Family, Documentary
Middle East Premiere


After fleeing the war in Syria, best friends Mahmoud and Fawzi have spent the last five years in Jordan's Za'atari refugee camp. Though they both have little sense of what the future may hold for them, they focus their energy on their shared love—soccer. Despite the dire circumstances in the camp, the pair practice day in and day out, firmly believing that playing professional football is their ticket to freedom and a brighter future. When Aspire Academy, one of the world’s leading sports academies, arrives to pick players for an international tournament in Qatar, the friends seize their chance.
The visiting scouts quickly identify Mahmoud as a promising talent and fly him to Doha, while Fawzi has an anxious delay due to a selection technicality. Reunited, the friends train hard for the most important day of their burgeoning careers—a televised match that will be watched by their families back in Za'atari thanks to a hastily erected satellite dish. A profoundly authentic and human story, ‘Captains of Zaatari’ highlights the real struggles faced by people uprooted and displaced by conflict. As Mahmoud himself succinctly proclaims at the post-match press conference, refugees don't need pity; they need opportunities.

About the Directors

Farah Nabulsi is an Academy Award Nominated and BAFTA Award Winning Palestinian British filmmaker. She started working in the film industry as a writer and producer of short fiction films. These include ‘Today They Took My Son’, endorsed by British Director Ken Loach and screened at the United Nations. ‘The Present’, her directorial debut, which she also co-wrote and produced, premiered at Clermont-Ferrand International Short Film Festival 2020 and won the coveted Audience Award for Best International Film. It went on to win over 40 International Film Festival Jury and Audience Awards, a BAFTA Award and an Oscar Nomination. ‘The Present’ was licensed internationally, including with Canal+ and Netflix Worldwide. Farah has been invited to serve as a jury member at a number of film festivals and as a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Ali El Arabi is a documentary director and producer who has worked with Dream TV (Egypt), ZDF, Stern TV Germany, and National Geographic. In 2015 El Arabi set up Ambient Light—a Cairo-based production company that focuses on topics relevant to the MENA region, such as refugee displacement and women’s and children’s rights. His directorial debut, 'Captains of Zaatari', was at Sundance as an entry for the World Documentary Competition, and the film was named one of the best 15 films at Sundance by Variety.


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Farah Nabulsi, Hind Shoufani
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