Documentary Films | 2016 | 87 minutes
Stranger Says: The Beitar Jerusalem Football Club was long known as “the team of the underprivileged,” forming an apparently unbreakable bond with its adoring working-class fans. Once the team broke tradition in 2012 by signing two Muslim players, however, the atmosphere in the stands quickly became toxic. Director Maya Zinshtein delves deep into a fascinatingly volatile situation, exploring the bewildered team members, the nuclear passions of their former fans, and the club’s owner, a Freon-veined Russian billionaire who baldly states that he bought the team as a propaganda tool in his failed bid to become mayor of Jerusalem. Amazing and maddening. (ANDREW WRIGHT)
SIFF Says:Beitar Jersalem is the most popular―and most controversial―soccer team in Israel, long associated with the conservative Likud political party and the only club in the Israeli Premier League never to sign an Arab player. They are equally well known for a prominent supporters’ group, La Familia, notorious for anti-Arab chants and banners that read “Forever Pure”—fans who pride themselves on being the most racist in the league. When Arcadi Gaydamak, the team’s Russian billionaire owner, hires two Chechen Muslim players in the middle of the 2012-13 season, it sparks a calamitous battle between the team leadership and its extreme-right-wing fan base. Maya Zinshtein captures this battle, including amazing interviews with all concerned―from the fans themselves to team management to the mothers of the Chechen players. The result is a troubling tale of nationalism and mob mentality in Israel―but with a special significance for the U.S., where hate speech and hate crimes are on the rise.