It is likely safe to say that director Waad al-Kateab's latest documentary We Dare to Dream doesn't quite invite the critical reception and universal acclaim as did her Academy Award-nominated For Sama. This was likely inevitable. For Sama, perhaps fortunately, was a once in a lifetime film and I continue to be stunned that the remarkable documentary didn't go home with the golden statuette.
As you may very well know, For Sama did go home with this very critic's Richard D. Propes Social Impact Award during its run at the Heartland International Film Festival where it also picked up the Best Documentary Feature prize.
So, it definitely goes without saying that I was deeply interested when I found out that We Dare to Dream, which had its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival, would mark the filmmaker's return to Heartland and, in fact, her first actual appearance as For Sama co-director Edward Watts had represented the film In Indy.
With We Dare to Dream, Al-Kateab turns her lens on a handful of individuals comprising the 2020 Refugee Olympic Team as they prepare for the Tokyo Olympics. For the most part far less harrowing than For Sama, a film that documented her own survival in Aleppo during the Syrian Civil War, We Dare to Dream remains a powerful and meaningful film in its own right as the filmmaker chronicles these athletes and their hopes, dreams, and aspirations for a better life.
Executive produced by Angelina Jolie, We Dare to Dream focuses on four particular athletes who have, in essence, become stateless and homeless yet continue to possess remarkable athletic skill and a desire to achieve Olympic glory.
Weightlifter Cyrille Tchatchet II's story is quite touching. Arriving in the UK from Cameroon in 2014, he has become a mental health nurse and a British weightlifting champion of tremendous acclaim.
Anjelina Nadai Lohalith is a 1500m runner fled the war in South Sudan as a child and ended up at a Kenyan refugee camp.
Finally, there are two athletes who fled Iran and landed in Germany. Kimia Alizadeh is an Olympic bronze medalist in Taekwondo and Saeid Fazloula is a canoeist.
We Dare to Dream is, I think it's fair to say, a more inspirational and even feel-good film though it's also fair to say that the film vividly captures the fierce, unimaginable obstacles faced by these athletes and many other athletes like them who have similar talent to the other Olympic athletes but far less opportunity to live into that talent. To say there is inequity would be a massive understatement. At its essence, We Dare to Dream is about freedom and its questions are made poignant by a first-person narration that is both thoughtful and emotionally resonant. As I finished the film, I wasn't quite sure it left an impact. Days later, I realized I was still thinking about it.
With We Dare to Dream, Waad al-Kateab secures her status as one of the best of the up-and-coming documentarians. With a confident yet curious voice and a richly human lens, she has crafted a memorable documentary that weaves together both engaging sports stories and poignant human storytelling.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic