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The Workers Cup

Scene from The Workers Cup

A new poignant documentary about blue collar workers in Qatar has been making waves at the Sundance Film Festival in the US this week.

The 90-minute film, called The Workers Cup, was produced by three longtime Qatar residents who hope it will be screened in the country this year.

The film follows the lives of several office and construction employees who compete in a football tournament on behalf of their company.

The Workers Cup

A scene from The Workers Cup

The annual cup was established to provide a recreational outlet for Qatar’s hundreds of thousands of blue-collar workers, most of whom live away from their families.

According to the film’s website, the men they profile “play heroes on the football pitch, but are the lowest members of society off of it.”

So far, The Workers Cup has been critically acclaimed by many publications, including Variety, which said:

“Indeed, The Workers Cup may resonate most strongly among the world’s soccer fans, especially those willing to take a look at the price these men pay to feed other people’s passions.

Without casting blame or stirring up resentments, (the director) simply gives the audience characters to connect with. What happens next is up to the viewer.”


For many workers, the tournament does indeed prove to be a welcome distraction.

But in between the matches and practices, the film also captures the loneliness, monotony and general dissatisfaction that many of the men feel while working in Qatar.

Video still

A scene from The Workers Cup

“This is no life, man,” said one expat from Kenya. “It’s like you are trapped or something because you don’t even get to enjoy the privileges of life.”

Speaking to Doha News, director Adam Sobel said the point of the film was to create empathy for a large segment of Qatar’s society.

Producer Ramzy Haddad added that the men were not victims, but “real individuals” who deserved to be honored for “their hopes and dreams and sacrifices they made for this country.”

Restricted movement

It is not always easy to interview expats who live in Qatar’s Industrial Area. Several foreign journalists have been arrested in recent years for trying to do so.

So it is notable that these filmmakers had permission to make the documentary, after being granted access to the workers by Gulf Contracting Co.

Video still

A scene from The Workers Cup

Speaking to Doha News, Sobel pointed out that GCC was not observed to be breaking any of Qatar’s laws.

The men in the film did not sleep in bunk beds, for example. They were served regular meals and paid on time.

But the hours they work are long, pay is low and access to the outside world is still restricted, causing one man to lament about how hard it’s been to go out on dates.

The Workers Cup

A scene from The Workers Cup

For many construction workers, coping of society’s disparaging impressions of laborers has especially been hard.

One GCC employee at a site near Lagoona Mall was told by his foreman not to enter the shopping center during regular hours. He mused that this could be so they don’t offend “rich people.”

“We could be wearing dirty clothes,” he said. “Maybe we’re dusty and smelly. And that’s bad, no? Like, for them to see the sweat and dirt? We don’t want to be a disturbance. Or to disgust them.”

Strong scenes

Many of the people interviewed in the documentary have since left Doha, but others have remained. And some have even returned to the country to work.

Before The Workers Cup was screened at Sundance, all of the subjects filmed got a chance to see it, as did members of Qatar’s World Cup organizing committee and some senior officials.

The Workers Cup

A scene from The Workers Cup

Producer Rosie Garthwaite said many “found it a bit difficult to watch, (but) they’ve all uniformly said they see the workers in a totally new way now that they’ve seen the film.”

One of many thought-provoking scenes in the film involved a few men sitting in GCC’s infirmary.

While there, one worker asks another about what happened to his leg. He explains that he woke up one night to find his roommate stabbing him with a knife.

“He was nice. He used to speak with me. The only problem is he wanted to go home,” the injured man explained.

Another man chimed in:

“The guy wasn’t mental. He just had a small problem. So he took a knife and cut. Then the camp boss took the guy and handed him over to the police. And the police figured the guy’s mental and sent him back to Bangladesh.”

The injured man added, “he told me, ‘I just want to go home to my mother.’ ”

Improvements made

The producers said some of the people who watched the film pointed out that Qatar has changed in the two years since the footage was shot.

For example, legislation has been passed to make it harder not to pay people on time.

Shabina S. Khatri / Doha News

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

And new labor reforms were introduced last month so expats can change jobs and leave the country more easily.

But according to Garthwaite, “none of the changes since we filmed have had an impact on the lives of the men we interviewed.”

She added:

“We hope that (the film) will be a catalyst for change. With five years until the World Cup – it’s now or never.”


Bilal movie


Bilal movie

A Twitter spat has erupted over a recently-launched film inspired by one of the Prophet Muhammed’s key companions.

Some in Qatar are calling for the banning of the UAE-made, feature-length animation Bilal movie, saying it is insulting and lacks Islamic context. But others said such criticism is nothing more than a storm in a ghawa cup.

The film had its movie-theater debut this week and is based on the the life of Bilal Ibn Rabah – a slave who was freed and became Islam’s first Muezzin.

It has received acclaim on the film festival circuit, and debuted at the Ajyal Film Festival in Qatar last year without incident.


However, following a screening of the movie yesterday in Doha, a hashtag   (We demand the banning of the movie Bilal in Qatar) was created.

It was apparently started by Hamad Al Braidi, who describes himself on Twitter as being a Qatari poet.

He and other critics appear upset that the film lacks Islamic and historical context:

Translation: A film on Bilal (may Allah bless him) without mentioning the Prophet (peace be upon him), without a mere mention of the word “mosque” and then marring the facts regarding the well-known incident when Bilal said “Ahadad Ahad” (refusing to renounce Islam under torture).

Translation: The people of Qatar do not accept that the Prophet’s companions be defamed, that facts be twisted to strip them of their (honorable) status and of their special proximity to the Prophet (pbuh). We are all against the screening of this film.

Al Braidi’s comments have spurred dozens of tweets in support of a ban, with some adding that they oppose any depiction of the Prophet or his companions.

Translation: Anyone who wants to learn about the life of the Prophet’s companions can seek out the numerous books instead of misleading films. It’s a base way of destroying the minds of those who support such films.


However, many more people disagreed with the attacks on the cartoon.

Translation: The film premiered at Ajyal film festival. The word amazing doesn’t do it justice. It’s a film that makes one proud that we are now making films in Qatar and exporting them to the world.

Translation: People do not know the meaning of inspired by. As soon as they saw the name Bilal they jumped to the conclusion it was the Prophet’s companion.

This latest Twitter campaign comes as many in Qatar have been debating the merits of hashtag activism.

In this case, many cautioned against drawing conclusions until actually seeing the movie:

Translation: I don’t understand the reason behind banning any film. It does nothing but generate fuss around it and gives it more publicity.

Translation: How are you calling for the banning of the film when you still haven’t seen it except for its trailer. A film that took three years to make is now demanded to be banned without even being seen!

For his part, the producer of the movie recently explained that the film was deliberately “inspired by a true story” and not based on the historical figure himself over concerns of a religious backlash.

Here’s the trailer for the film, which premieres worldwide this month.

Have you seen it? Thoughts?

Shahnawaz Zali

Via Shahnawaz Zali

Shahnawaz Zali

An award-winning film about religious extremism that was produced and shot in Qatar has recently been nominated for a prestigious Student Oscar.

Northwestern University in Qatar (NU-Q) graduate Shahnawaz Zali’s 100 Steps was one of 26 US nominees selected out of more than 500 applicants.

Though it was shot in Qatar, the film takes place in Zali’s home country of Pakistan.

Shahnawaz Zali's 100 Steps

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Shahnawaz Zali’s 100 Steps

It follows the story of a boy named Abdulla who finds out that his local religious school is a front for a radical extremists’ recruitment camp.

Only 13 years old, Abdulla has to choose between doing what he is told or defying the man who raised him.

In a statement, Zali said, “We’re used to seeing Pakistan in a certain light and I wanted to show the world that there’s more.”

Time for change

Speaking to Doha News, the 23-year-old said the film took several months of research, writing, rewriting, shooting and reshooting.

Born and raised in Lahore, Zali witnessed first-hand Pakistan’s political turmoil. He said he had always hoped to produce content that challenged global stereotypes about his country and Muslims.

He explained:

“Even before coming to Northwestern University in Qatar, I had always dreamt about making films that can potentially invoke thoughts and emotions and can show the world that not all Pakistanis or not all Muslims are what the negative stereotype is around the globe…

And I believed that in order to progress as a nation, we must acknowledge that there is a problem within our society. Once we acknowledge the problem then only we can work together to solve it.”

100 Steps has already won awards at the Accolade Global Film Festival, Miami independent film festival and a Moving Media film festival in Detroit.

It is competing against six other films produced by students at other American universities in the narrative category.

Locally produced

The film is a product of Studio 20Q. The film grant initiative was started by NU-Q four years ago and provides funding for independent student projects.

Shahnawaz Zali's 100 Steps

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Shahnawaz Zali\’s 100 Steps

The organization is a replica of the student-run organization Studio 22 at Northwestern University’s main campus in Evanston.

According to Zali, 100 Steps took nine days to shoot. But the whole process – including petitioning for crew members, scouting for locations, finding actors and editing the film – was about a year long.

“The crew that worked for us was unpaid and they were all students, so it is a 100 percent student work.

I was very glad that I had a very passionate and hard-working crew who worked tirelessly to make this film happen, especially in the heat we used to shoot in outside.”

After applying the finishing touches, Zali submitted his film to several film festivals, including the Student Academy Awards.

“I did not expect that I would get nominated, it was always a dream,” he said. “But you see, when you dream big, nothing is impossible.”

What’s next

After graduating this year, Zali said he hopes to work for Qatar Foundation. He is also in the process of establishing a production company in Lahore.

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Craig Piersma/Flickr

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

There, he plans to continue to tell stories about his country and its people through film.

But in the near future, the young filmmaker hopes to clinch his first Oscar at next month’s awards ceremony.

“I am praying to God that I hope I can make all of my friends, family members, university, crew members, Qatar and Pakistan proud by bringing a Student Oscar home,” he said.