Forever Pure tells the story of football club Beitar Jerusalem as the ultra-conservative team signs their first ever Muslim players. Director Maya Zinshtein was there first-hand to film and chronicle a bizarre period in Israeli football where right-wing zealotry and hooliganism combined to hold a mirror to a fragile section of society.
Having never signed a Muslim player, the club was forced to welcome Zaur Sadayev and Gabriel Kadiev after eccentric owner Arcadi Gaydamak made a business deal to promote relations with Chechen political leaders. The resulting furore shocked pundits and caused a rising team to plummet near relegation.
Football Ultras ‘La Familia’ were vocal about their disgust and chanted obscene anti-Islam rhetoric while also eventually boycotting matches. They even set fire to the club’s museum destroying their own history in an act of severe literal irony one must only assume was lost on them.
Speaking of her film, Zinshtein commented how surprised so many people were of the severity of the blow-back from the signings. “Maybe I was naive but I thought football wins”, she stated. This is reflected in the film as pundits on the radio and long-time club legend Itzik Kornfein state a few goals from the new boys and the fans will get on side. However, while the ultras numbered only in the hundreds, when they called for a boycott they did so en masse.
It is near impossible to watch Forever Pure and not see a startling parallel to current political climates. Both Brexit and the recent US elections have shocked experts and defied belief as other right-wing parties and movements gain momentum across Europe. The scale and popularity of these movements have been dangerously dismissed but with crushing consistency they reaffirm that are not a niche minority. Zinshtein was at hand to capture a global phenomena in microcosm and her proficiency at disseminating the information and displaying it is exceptional.
‘Pure’ is an apt word to describe this director’s storytelling. With a background in journalism, it is clear to see the objective chronicler at work. Zinshtein never injects herself or her opinion into the narrative but does what great documentary makers do, and allows the story to speak for itself. She stated afterwards that the biggest compliment she gets is from the ultras. When they say the story is exactly accurate, she feels she has succeeded in her job.
Forever Pure is a wonderful documentary from a political, social and psychological perspective that serves also as a warning. We who take for granted that we are the tolerant majority must take heed. Insipid hate is a weed, where the flower grows, the roots are much stronger.
Forever Pure screened on 19th November 2016
The Cork Film Festival 2016 runs 11 – 20 November