When Israeli journalist Maya Zinshtein took on a four-day assignment to cover the arrival of two foreign players to a local soccer club, she had no idea that it would turn into a year-long making of a feature documentary that dramatically reveals the skeletons in her own country’s closet. But this was no ordinary soccer team—and Forever Pure is certainly not your average sports documentary. The team at the center of the film is Beitar Jerusalem, which had been historically known for the right wing politics and even racist tendencies of its fan base. An extreme wing of the team’s fan base would sit together in a certain part of the stadium and pridefully chant "We are the most racist team in Israel."
"I thought I was making a film with a happy end. Nobody knew how badly it would go."
In fact, It was the only team in Israel’s premier league never to sign an Arab player. In the course of the film, the team gets bought by a Russian oligarch who brings two Muslim players from Chechnya into the lineup to serve his own business needs. The resulting backlash exposes the ugliest parts of Israeli society, and threatens to tear the team and country apart. Some of the club’s own lifetime fans turned against the new players, along with any of the old players or management who supported them, even committing violence at times.
Rarely does a documentary—especially about something as apparently innocuous as soccer—expose so many layers of one society, from race to class to politics to economics. But it didn’t come without Zinshtein’s own battles. In our conversation, she is very candid about how she overcame the challenges she faced making the film, especially in trying to convince people to let her turn vérité cameras on them in the midst of personal and national crises.
When we spoke, it was as the film premiered at last year’s Toronto International Film Festival. Zinshtein has since received everything from death threats, to awards, to a broadcast on America’s renowned Independent Lens series on PBS. You can watch Forever Pure on Netflix now.
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This episode was produced and edited by Jon Fusco.