The Dalkurd Story: From Kurdish refugees to Sweden's top flight football league
“Football is the last sacred ritual of our time,” said Italian film director and intellectual Pier Paolo Pasolini, and rightly so.
Like any other ritual, football is based on a common language, a shared set of practices and, above all, a strong sense of belonging. Eleven people play on the pitch, along with the so-called ‘twelfth man’ – the fans. During each 90-minute game, the players and the fans are one and, for the time being, their differences disappear in the name of the greater good.
In Kurdish-Canadian filmmaker Kordo Doski’s first non-fiction feature, titled Allihopa: The Dalkurd Story, screened at the World Showcase sidebar of this year’s Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival (27 April-7 May), we dig deep into this peculiar type of ritual, zooming in on the last part of the crazy 2017 season played by the Dalkurd FF.
"The documentary's narrative focuses on two main aspects: the personal journeys of the refugees on and off the pitch, and the theme of the Kurdish identity seen through the prism of sport as a social glue"
The football club, founded in 2004, was initially launched as a social project to help assimilate Kurdish youths to their new home in Borlänge, a rural working-class town in central Sweden.
It didn’t take long for Dalkurd, however, to reveal themselves as a very promising team, as they gradually became the de facto national team of Kurdistan and climbed the ladders of the Nordic country’s professional football in less than 15 years.
In 2017, the team’s big dream may finally come true. Dalkurd is playing in the second-highest professional division and coach Andreas Brännström (now leading Stockholm’s top team, AIK) and his boys are battling to reach the elite division, the Allsvenskan, faster than it has ever been done before.
Doski decides to follow Dalkurd over the last few weeks of the season when the team needs only one more win to gain access to the top league. Only four games are left, and the Kurdish team are set to play against Oster, Brommapojkarna, GAIS and Trelleborg, respectively.
The documentary's narrative focuses on two main aspects: the personal journeys of the refugees on and off the pitch, and the theme of the Kurdish identity seen through the prism of sport as a social glue.
Both aspects are treated in a rather balanced fashion, resulting in a very moving and entertaining piece of filmmaking.
In it, the helmer alternates several intimate interviews, a number of heated discussions and friendly chats taking place in the locker room along with some brilliantly edited footage from Dalkurd’s last games.
On the whole, Doski follows a TV-like approach that does not stand out from the crowd, but it’s well-crafted and it’s good enough.
Besides, Doski manages to introduce and explore in good depth some of the squad’s most remarkable personalities. Among these are first co-captain Rawez Lawan (born in Malmö like Swedish superstar Zlatan Ibrahimović, and now a fiery player and a father of two boys), second co-captain Peshraw “Pasha” Azizi (injured for most of the season, he is probably the strongest advocate for the Kurdish cause), young Rewan Amin (once a rising star of the Dutch national team, now simply a talented player hungry for victory) and Ramazan Kizil, Dalkurd’s brave founder, who dedicated much of his life to providing a safe haven for Kurdish youth in Sweden through the development of his club.
All in all, Doski keeps the viewers hooked thanks to the presence of many tension-packed sequences and some touching personal stories. Luckily enough, the feature is rather linear and easy to follow, and Doski’s directorial vision is clearly driven by the aim of intercepting an audience that is as wide as possible. The goal is ultimately achieved. Even though we may know – or guess – what happened to Dalkurd at the end of 2017, Doski’s work is still able to surprise us, because we don’t know how that happened.
Curiously, the path explored in Allihopa: The Dalkurd Story loosely echoes that of a more obscure Italian documentary, Mario Bucci’s Una meravigliosa stagione fallimentare (2015).
In it, AS Bari is about to start a new season in Italy’s second division. The club is on the brink of bankruptcy, the players have lost motivation, and the fans expect the worst. Nevertheless, the team manages to reach the playoffs and all of a sudden Serie A seems to be a concrete prospect.
A few weeks after their promotion to the top league, the team relocated to Uppsala, a bigger town far 140 kilometres southeast of Borlänge, owing to some disagreements with the local municipality.
On a sadder note, Dalkurd FF is now playing in the third division of Swedish football, and their time in the Allsvenskan lasted only for one season. Football, just like any other sport, is beautifully cruel and made of joys and pains. One day you are on top of the stairs, the next it’s time for you to go back to the basics and dribble through cones. But if you stick ‘allihopa’ (all together), the dream can come true again.
Davide Abbatescianni is an Italian Film Critic and Journalist based in Rome
Follow him on Twitter: @dabbatescianni