College women’s basketball is played in Iraq in this documentary. The American University of Iraq, which opened in about 2007, is in the northeast province of the country. The province was given to the Kurds as a place where they would not be persecuted. Thousands of Kurds were killed in a genocide under Saddam Hussein’s rule. It is now one of the few secure locations in the country.
The highs and lows of the six-week basketball season are chronicled. It is only the second year that the team has existed. Emotions run high with every game whether they win or lose. All the women have poise that is delivered in one-on-one interviews. Many are in other extracurricular activities beside basketball. It is the opinion of the school administration that the students in the whole school are the leaders of tomorrow in Iraq.
The spirit of these young women is contagious. Basketball sets them free and brings out their self-confidence. It is a pure love of the game. They know they are lucky to be playing at all and do not take it for granted. There is not a hint of morose ennui in any of them. They live in an environment where most men believe that girls should not play sports and should stay at home to make babies. This is within a background of war and death that still resonates even in the northern province. Many girls worry that the next bomb may kill someone they know. A few of them even lived in Bagdad before going north.
Their coach, Ryan, is one of those teachers whose optimistic enthusiasm is the kind that builds great schools. He is full of passion that sometimes can come out unfiltered, making him human in the best possible way. He always talks about what can be done and how things can be made better. He even talks of making the basketball program the best in the country.
The international language of sport humanizes these people more than a thousand peace conferences. David Fine’s direction and editing is sharp and never leaves a dull moment. Personally, I am not a big sports fan but found myself caught up in their drama. This is a positive movie that shows a side of Iraq that never gets shown in the media.