Lebanon Wins the World Cup is a 23-minute documentary that makes absolutely perfect sense…if you are Lebanese…or a soccer fan in general. In 1975, Lebanon broke out into civil war after the Palestinian refugees were allowed in 1969 to begin to take arms in the southern part of the country against the Israelis. This greatly divided the Lebanese population as the Christians sided with a more democratic and Western ideology and the Muslims drifted towards socialism and Eastern ones.
To quote my mom, “Only the Lebanese. No one else but the Lebanese will stop an entire war just to watch soccer!”
In 1982, the Israelis invaded Lebanon and the civil war turned into a sectarian one that got absolutely ugly, but during that summer for a brief 120-minutes, an unintentional ceasefire took place as Italy and Brazil faced off in the finals of the World Cup. The Italians upset the Brazilians, who were heavily supported by the Lebanese and Hassan Berri, one of the Shia Muslim who sided with the Lebanese Comunist Party recalls, “I would have cried if I could.”
The documentary follows two men in their 50s who were teenage fighters and both had an affinity for the Brazilian team. Berri and Syriac Orthodox Christian (their liturgy is still in Aramaic, the language Jesus spoke) Edward Chamoun who fought on the frontline in Beirut during the civil war and how these two have one commonality. No, it was not being Lebanese, it was the love for Brazilian soccer.
It took 32 years and the World Cup to be held in Brazil for these two once bitter enemies to meet face-to-face, living less than hours away from one another to embrace each other, sit down over a pot of tea and cigarettes and watch the match-up between host country Brazil and Chile during the second round of the World Cup.
Filmmakers, Anthony Lappé, Allen Seif, and Tony Elkoury set out to find the testimonials of these two men and the shared love for soccer that not only they, but all of Lebanon has for the world’s most popular sport.
“Originally, we wanted to make a full-length feature film, but it was difficult getting funding for the project, especially for a topic about the war, so it was self-funded,” said Elkoury who directed as well as produced the film.
At the heart of this documentary are two older men who fought for a cause that they deemed justified leaving them physically and emotionally exhausted. Chamoun lost a leg in the war and has not seen his wife and children since the early 1990s when he had them emigrate to Holland. Berri spent a brief period of time in Brazil but returned to Lebanon after he fell ill.
“Lebanon has never qualified for the World Cup and that is why they attach on to countries like Brazil, Germany, France or Argentina. Whether they identify with Germany because they embody strength or for the pretty girls in Brazil, it gives the people an identity, which Lebanon has struggled to reclaim. It is why we speak three languages,” said Seif, who was also the composer on this project.
Soccer is a passion that most North American eyes (minus Mexico) will not understand. It is nationalism at its core. In international play, the team represents your entire nation, your history, and your identity. Lebanon has hosted the Asian Cup, but never advanced to the finals of that either. Tensions always remain high in this tiny country that is one of the foundations of Western Civilization. The title of the short documentary is not misleading, it is hopeful. Lebanon won the World Cup because the World Cup brought these two men together to meet on an even playing field in the heart of Beirut on the border where the war was fought and gives hope to a generation that knew nothing but war, death, and destruction.
Lebanon Wins the World Cup won Best Documentary Short at the 2015 Warsaw Film Festival and makes its U.S. debut at the 31st Annual Santa Barbara International Film Festival this weekend. It is a must see if you want the slightest glimpse into the Middle Eastern mindset, whether it be politics or soccer.
Showings will be during the International Documentary Shorts block. The showtimes are listed bellow: