A CCNY student talks to Halkawt Mustafa about his new soccer film, showing this week at the Tribeca Film Fest
Several City College students were invited to cover the Tribeca Film Festival — happening this week in lower Manhattan. Here, Ricardo Andrés Verdesoto, an MCA major and epic soccer fan, interviews the director of “El Clasico: Big Dreams” — which looks at love, soccer, discrimination based on size and the battle between Real Madrid and Barcelona.
To soccer fans across the world El Clásico is more than just a game. Anytime Real Madrid and Barcelona face each other the world is witness to arguably the biggest rivalry in sports. With more than 150 million people across the world tuning in to watch the game, it’s easy to see just how much this match truly means to fans from all corners of the world. Featuring star players, and icons of the modern game Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, El Clasico is a true battle of pride, bragging rights, and becoming legendary.
This game is the inspiration behind Halkawt Mustafa’s most recent work titled just that: “El Clásico.” The film introduces us to two brothers of small size, who are utterly obsessed with both Real Madrid and Barcelona respectively. Alan and Shirwan are from the Kurdish region of Iraq living in the small town with a population of only 350 people. Alan, who wants to marry his girlfriend Gona, is denied her hand by her father, Jalal. A shoemaker and Real Madrid fan, Jalal has made a pair of shoes exclusively for Cristiano Ronaldo. Alan, steals the shoes and sets out to prove that his love for his daughter is real. His real goal: To show Jalal that he can achieve his big dreams, despite his small size. Alan and Shirwan set out to Spain on an ATV motorbike, hoping to get the shoes to Ronaldo.
I had the opportunity to sit down with Halkawt Mustafa during his time in New York City for the premiere and debut of “El Clásico” at the TriBeCa Film Festival. Mustafa, an Iraqi filmmaker based in Norway, is making his first appearance at the festival. He is a man on a mission — to tell the stories of the people, the culture, and the struggles that are a part of life. Since his movie premiered, it has captured the hearts of soccer fans, creating a real buzz behind a film about the two most important things in life: soccer and love.
RICARDO VERDESOTO: How does it feel to be part of the TriBeca Film Festival?
HALKAWT MUSTAFA: It’s really nice to be here. This is my first trip to New York, and I’m just looking forward to being involved [in the festival].
RV: What inspired you to begin work on El Clasico?
HM: Well you know, it came from the newspapers – it’s like, there’s talk of the match between Real Madrid and Barcelona. It wasn’t bombs and things blowing up in Baghdad. So for me it was like, football counts towards something. The other thing is, even in China there’s more than 20 million people watching El Clasico, but most importantly, it came from me visiting a little people organization in Iraq. Where I found two brothers who would fight and argue 24/7 about who’s the best player: Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo. So I decided to visit Spain and watch the the REAL El Clasico
RV: What was your experience like in Spain?
HM: It’s such an important experience. It’s 90 minutes of drama, fighting, and the atmosphere in the stadium is amazing.
RV: You’ve talked previously about the film, and in particular working with people of small size and how they can often hide from society. Was it important for you to get the message out that they should be incorporated into our society?
HM: The reason I wanted to tell this story was because I got to live with them for one year, and it really helped me understand what it’s like to live like them. And how can we can tell an honest story about them, the brothers. They are the same like me and you. They have big dreams, and it was important to show just how we can see the world from their eyes.
RV: What was your biggest challenge while working on location, both in the village and in Baghdad?
HM: [Filming] in Baghdad, because of security reasons. We shot with the special forces; they closed the streets around us. In fact most American productions shoot [films] in Jordan or Morocco because of the security problems when they want to make a story about Baghdad or Iraq. But I wanted to shoot in the real Baghdad. It was risky; when you have the production crew from a European country it’s like there was a feeling of, you know, almost waiting for something to blow up in Baghdad.
RV: I know moved to Norway in the year 2000. I came to New York as an immigrant myself in 1999, so I wanted to ask you – was it difficult to adjust to life in a new country for you?
HM: Of course. I’m Kurdish, and when I moved to Norway everything was different, even the weather; Norway is really cold. The culture, the language, but I was 15 years old so I was able to learn the culture, and it changes your life. It’s really difficult, and really sad in the beginning, but everything got much better when I started to go to school.
RV: How important is it for you to incorporate your heritage/ background into your movies?
HM: It’s really important. It’s helped me to make real pictures, and tell real stories. I never want to tell a story about someone that I really don’t know about. I want to understand and find original stories and original characters.
RV: Do you see yourself as an inspiration to other aspiring filmmakers in your country?
HM: I hope so! You know, I’m really happy because I have the Middle-Eastern eyes and the European eyes. So I think putting those visions together, can be really interesting as a filmmaker.
RV: What advice would you give a young student that wants to make movies?
HM: To make movies is hard, but if you never give up, you can get anything you want.
RV: The biggest message of the movie is to dream big. What’s your biggest dream?
HM: My biggest dream is to be able to tell the stories I want to tell.
RV: Did you get to meet Cristiano Ronaldo?
A: Of course! (Smiles)
RV: Finally, Real Madrid or Barcelona?
HM: Real Madrid of course! (smiles) Oh you have a Real Madrid Jersey! (laughs)