Over the Wall is a film by Jasper Kain and Matthew Kay which follows the progress across the Middle East from Egypt to Palestine of the SOAS faction of Football Beyond Borders, an international initiative which uses football to –as the organisation’s website puts it – ‘transcend socio-cultural boundaries and act as a shared medium through which to achieve dialogue and understanding’, based on the assumption that, to quote one player during the film, ‘no-one in the world hates football.’ While I’d certainly beg to differ on this point, such curmodgeonliness pales in the face of Over the Wall, which is fundamentally a testament to the fact that – when approached without prejudice or preconception, and when ostensibly freed from ugly power-play –  human beings generally get on with one another. The fact that the medium through which this truism is revealed is something which I’m not too keen on really shouldn’t matter.

Not to imply that Over the Wall is an uncomplicated or sentimental paean to world peace. Indeed, one particularly refreshing element of the film is the manner in which, because the team are all SOAS students, reflective discussion concerning the politics of their actions is not only accepted, but deemed to be crucial in collective decisions. The fact that a debate on the tourbus as to whether the team should attempt to enter the Gaza strip (solidarity or neo-colonialism?) sounds a lot like the kind of seminar-talk so often scorned as ‘unrelated to the real world’ is a wonderful indictment of such reactionary criticism. Also, comments which might be considered reductive are perpetually complicated by another voice. For instance, team member Juan’s somewhat naive claim that an impromptu football pitch in Egypt’s Mansheit Nasser slum is the best stadium he has ever played in is given its dialectical counterpoint by another of the footballers, who refuses to simply succumb to the atmosphere of oneness and community (that peoples under naked oppression gain a strong sense of unity is a prevalent theme within the film) and points out that they’re all surrounded by burning rubbish, serving as a constant reminder that the government dumps the whole of Cairo’s refuse in that neighbourhood.

While such inequality is obviously prevalent throughout the team’s journey, it – perhaps inevitably – becomes most shocking when they enter Israel in order to cross into the West Bank, and the unashamed oppression of Arabs by the contested state is everywhere evident. At the Taba Border Crossing from Egypt into Israel, the two players with Arabic names are interrogated for six hours, and once the team are in the Palestinian territories, an extensive litany of injustices is revealed. They meet people who matter-of-factly speak of family members killed by the Israeli army, experience an Israeli patrol which is intended to pre-empt any action by the Palestinians in retaliation to a murder of a Palestinian by Israeli settlers the week before, and see Israeli settlements which dump raw sewage through olive groves worked by the residents of the village of Farkha and into rivers where the villagers’ children play, causing these children to develop respiratory diseases.

On paper, this might seem to be cumulative to a diatribe against the Israeli occupation, yet Kay and Kain assert that, while their sympathies do lie with the Palestinians, they did not intend to make a didactic or propagandist work, and it is true that the film does not seem sensationalist in presenting such oppression. Instead, these injustices are largely filtered through the subjectivities of those members of the team who, while certainly intelligent and erudite, were not so aware of the Israeli apartheid before embarking on the journey, and the events appear all the more shocking because of these footballers’ relative lack of preceding bias. Also, many of the scenes in Palestine do not paint a picture of a downtrodden people in need of our sympathy, but a welcoming society of resilient individuals, and this is certainly aided by the way in which the film is shot. Throughout Over the Wall, the spectator is not encouraged to consider him/herself as apart from the figures onscreen, but instead the footage, filmed with inexpensive equipment, is thrillingly immersive, placing the audience in amongst the action despite Kay’s narration sometimes seeming a little too detached (although, to his credit he always speaks in first-person). In interview, Kay and Kain told me that they are seeking funding for their next film. While I certainly hope they do secure a budget for a future project, I also hope that the external influence of benefactors does not result in a dilution of the raw energy which makes Over the Wall so utterly engaging.

Daniel Neofetou

(Watch our interview with the film-makers here)

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