LAFF: Young Iraqi Women Become Athletes in David Fine’s 'Salaam Dunk,' Challenge Religious Views and Reveal a United Iraq We’ve Never Seen Before

LAFF: Young Iraqi Women Become Athletes in David Fine’s 'Salaam Dunk,' Challenge Religious Views and Reveal a United Iraq We’ve Never Seen Before

Jun 23, 2011

A progressive and brave group of young Iraqi women defy all odds and form a basketball team at the American University of Iraq - Sulaimani (AUIS). Together they explore a sport that ultimately becomes their refuge and release from their war-torn nation. They challenge the religious point of view that sports are for men not for women, learn for the first time what it’s like to play on a team, and cautiously guard their secret of attending an American university. Regardless of their ethnicities and sects (Iraqi, Kurd, Shiite, Sunni) the girls embrace one another and Ryan, their American coach, allowing us to appreciate a different Iraq.

Director David Fine sat with us to discuss his profound documentary, filming in Iraq, Coach Ryan and the security issues surrounding the young Iraqi women.

Fandango: Where did your love for documentaries begin?
David Fine:
I always loved documentaries but I didn’t know I would end up making documentaries. When I went to school in Connecticut I had the opportunity to make a thesis film my senior year. I didn’t have the money to make a narrative but I knew I wanted to make something about sports. I’ve been an athlete my whole life and I knew I could connect with my subject. So I made a film about a Connecticut hockey team and I loved the process, I loved getting to know people and having them open up to me and working the footage to find a creative way to tell a story. That was eight years ago and I had been looking for my next feature film.

Fandango: How did you find a group of Iraqi female basketball players?
Fine:
It all started with Ryan Bubalo, we met at a wedding. We had known of each other before but we really hit it off at a friend’s wedding. At the time he was doing his MFA in creative writing and was working on this novel that he thought he couldn’t write or do it justice unless he was in Iraq. So we met just before he was getting ready to go there. We kept in touch and became good friends and after he started this basketball team it just dawned on me that this could be the feature I was looking for.

Fandango: Being part of any film that exposes an unconventional lifestyle can be daunting especially when you live in an oppressed country. Why do you think the girls agreed to be part of this project?
Fine:
I think that some of them were very aware that the stories they were telling about their past and about being on this ethnically and religiously diverse team was something that would show people that Iraq isn’t what they thought it was.

The girls who really got into the project, stepped up and helped me in my efforts, they knew it would be difficult and that they may not like having a guy follow them around with a camera, getting teased at school but they all felt like the moral perception of Iraq is heavily skewed. Consequently it’s difficult for them to leave Iraq and get visas because there is this overwhelming sense that it’s a dangerous place and that the people that come from there are dangerous as well. I think a lot of them wanted to turn that misconception up on its head and to that extent they really helped me with the film.

Read the full interview at Fandango.

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