By Admin | April 6, 2011

Liz Mermin’s documentary, which was originally broadcast on the BBC, follows the five-member team from Qatar as it makes its first-ever appearance at the World Schools Debating Championship. Since Qatar is new to the concept of British parliamentary debate, the team’s coach is imported from the U.K.: 22-year-old Alex Just, a former president of the Oxford Union. But, then again, the team itself reflects the peculiar Qatari demographics where 80% of residents are foreign born: except for one young man who is half-Qatari and half-Lebanese, the other team members are foreign born.

The film follows the teenage debaters – three girls and two boys – as they undergo rigorous training in London and Doha before embarking to Washington for the international championship. The idea of young men and women collaborating as equals on a major project is clearly progressive for the Arab world – but, ultimately, nobody watching this film is going to be fooled.

“Team Qatar” comes across like a clumsy propaganda piece that casually ignores the sad fact that this Persian Gulf emirate has no history of allowing the basic elements that enable debate: freedom of speech, media and assembly. Even worse, the team members are fairly boring, their coach is utterly obnoxious, and the climactic debate tournament is a dreary exercise in supercilious posturing. And in view of the ongoing pro-democracy uprisings in the Islamic world, this 2008-lensed piece is painfully outdated.

But there is one thing here that qualifies as good news: Mermin’s original film has been shorn by a half-hour for its U.S. release. The less we see of “Team Qatar,” the better!

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