Documentary portrays struggle of workers, beauty of sport
Director Adam Sabel spent three years filming in Qatar
The FIFA World Cup is a worldwide event that gets soccer fans from all over the globe to cheer on their respective nations. Like the Olympics, many even travel to the host country, where they take in matches in most likely a brand new venue that was built just for the World Cup.
So when Qatar won the rights to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup, it immediately started drawing plans for its venue. Many marvel at the beauty and modern touch that each venue brings every four years, but not everyone understands the amount of work required to build them.
This is where filmmaker Adam Sabel, 32, comes in. As an aspiring director, he moved to Qatar about five years ago, where he worked independently for different international outlets. Most of his stories surrounded the story of the migrant workers in the wealthy nation, though roughly 60 percent of its population are laborers.
It’s a heavy subject, and without decent access into the country’s labor camps, Sabel struggled to submit reasons to make a film until he learned of The Worker’s Cup, a soccer tournament for the migrant workers sponsored by the committee organizing the World Cup.
“We always wanted to find some way to make a film about migrant workers in a way that is meaningful,” Sabel said. “When this soccer tournament was announced for workers, we just thought that was a great opportunity to do a feature-length film and really use that tournament as an opportunity to get access into the labor camps and stick around for a while.”
So Sabel did just that for his upcoming movie “The Worker’s Cup,” a 92-minute film which will premiere at this year’s Sundance Film Festival on Thursday. This is also Sabel’s first movie that cracked the coveted Sundance list.
Given exclusive access to the Qatari labor camps that hold the migrant workers building the World Cup venue, Sabel was able to capture the living conditions many struggle with on a day-to-day basis.
Workers are placed into their respective quarters, where they basically have half a room to call their own. The characters in the film, who Sabel considers film collaborators and friends behind the scenes, simply focused on waking up in the morning, going to work and coming home to get more rest for the next day of work.
“To see that, to be there, is tough, but at the same time, I think that you get used to it,” said Sabel, who spent three years in the camps while making the movie. “I think that they kind of got used to it as well, which is maybe why it’s a terrible thing. Because what you see is the moral is killed over time. Ambition can be squashed. It’s like the living conditions themselves are one thing, but what I find is much worse, is how isolated they are from society.”
One thing that always seemed to bring smiles to the workers’ faces throughout the movie, though, was the fact that they got to compete in the Worker’s Cup. With workers from places such as Ghana, Kenya, India and Nepal, soccer is a big deal for most of them. For some characters, even, they hoped this Cup would mean a way out of the camps and an avenue toward a soccer career.
Throughout the film, despite the adverse living conditions and poor working wages, soccer was the one thing that brought the group of workers together.
“It became pretty immediately apparent that was going to be important,” Sabel said. “That was the capital of the film: juxtaposition of sport life and work. The contribution site versus the playing field. They were two totally different energies.
“The fact that they were low-level residents in this society in their daily lives, but when they would step on the soccer pitch, that was just kind irrelevant. They were playing heroes. That was really special for them.”
Sabel and his crew follow a select group or team that is competing in the Worker’s Cup throughout the film, which wasn’t his original plan. Sabel first thought it would be best to highlight a player on each team, but after meeting the characters and learning of their stories, he felt it right to go a different direction.
“Once we started shooting this project and we had these established characters, the only motivation was just to always make them proud,” Sabel said. “I just wanted them to be proud of the final film and I did not want to make something that made them look like victims. I just wanted to make something that represented their experience on a much more personal and emotional level.
“They’re there living. They’re not just there suffering. I really wanted to celebrate that.”
“The Worker’s Cup” is in Sundance’s World Documentary Competition program and will screen at the following times:
- Thursday, Jan. 19, 9:30 p.m. at Egyptian Theatre, Park City
- Friday, Jan. 20, 8:30 a.m. at Prospector Square Theatre, Park City
- Friday, Jan. 20, 6 p.m. at Sundance Mountain Resort Screening Room, Sundance
- Monday, Jan. 23, 9 p.m. at Salt Lake City Library Theatre, Salt Lake City
- Wednesday, Jan. 25, 10 p.m. at Redstone Cinema 2, Kimball Junction
- Friday, Jan. 27, 3 p.m. at Temple Theatre, Park City
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