Who knew a documentary about soccer could be so devastating? Maya Zinshtein’s on-the-ground doc Forever Pure chronicles the tumultuous 2012-13 season of the Israeli soccer (or football to everyone else in the world) team Beitar Jerusalem. At the time, Beitar was the only team in the league that did not have Arab members of the team. Then billionaire owner Arcadi Gaydamak brought two Chechen Muslims aboard, and things proceeded to go to hell.
“They think we’re Arab?” one of the new players muses. “Someone should tell them we’re Chechen.” It doesn’t matter. A group of super-fans-turned-political-movement known as La Familia is outraged over the new additions to the team — Zaur Sadayev and Dzhabrail Kadiyev — and proceed to make their outrage heard at every game. Team captain Ariel Harush, who had previously been beloved by the fans, did his best to appeal to reason and urge fans to give the new players a chance. Overnight, Harush went from being seen as a hero to a traitor. It only got uglier from there.
Forever Pure begins with a background on the team and their controversial owner Arcadi Gaydamak. Gaydamak, often glimpsed at games with a bored look on his face as he sips wine, freely confesses to not even liking soccer. But he recognizes that the massive popularity of the game, and of Beitar, makes for a great propaganda tool for his political ambitions. But when they fall through, he all but abandons the team. That changes when he arranges for Beitar to travel abroad to Chechnya for a game, only to come back home with the two new Muslim players.
Zinshtein’s film captures the outrage and soul-crushing racism in real-time, with cameras at the game and following the players as they come under fire. Chants of “War!” rise up from the furious crowd, along with a song that includes lyrics like “We’re the most racist team in the country!” La Familia is proud of that racism, and that’s bad enough. But what Forever Pure illustrates is the fact that so many others in positions of power remained silent on the issue — and that just made things worse.
It’s hard not to look at Forever Pure and see it through the lens of the troubled American election season of 2016, where racism that was previously hidden away in the shadows has found a candidate (you know exactly the orange-colored man I’m talking about) that allows it to proudly hold its head up high. The rampant racism of La Familia might’ve been reduced had it been called-out by those with the power to do so. The same could be said for a certain politicians campaign. Those looking to Forever Pure for a happy resolve, where people learn a valuable lesson about the error of their ways, will be in for a rude awakening. Let’s hope the same rude awakening doesn’t await us at the end of this election cycle.
Forever Pure played at the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival.