Forever Pure screens at UNCSA Babcock on April 2 at 8 p.m. and at Aperture 1 at 4 p.m. on April 4 and 8.
I watched at least a half dozen RiverRun films this year, and despite stiff competition, Forever Pure is the most compelling.
The documentary follows Israel’s most controversial soccer club, Beitar Jerusalem, which boasts a rabid right-wing fan base ruled by a gang called La Familia. Owned by a Russian billionaire who couldn’t care less about soccer but who saw the team as a propaganda tool and a path to political power, Beitar Jerusalem is a team embroiled in nationalist and Zionist fervor so extreme that it can be disturbing and fascinating to witness.
After a failed campaign for mayor of Jerusalem, the team’s owner intentionally incensed fans by signing Muslim Chechen players Zaur Sadayev and Dzhabrail Kadiyev.
“I have no idea if they’re any good,” the owner admits in the film. “I assumed that there would be a big reaction.”
La Familia responded with a massive campaign against their own club, that included a hugely successful boycott, incessant heckling and threats and harassment of the team’s formerly beloved captain, who helped welcome the Muslim players. Someone firebombed the club’s office, and fans proudly chanted about their racism.
The action occurred several years ago, and could’ve been a warning about the parallel threats of the white supremacist right in the United States — at one point a La Familia leader talks about how they were depicted as the reactionary fringe of the fan base, but he accurately points out that they successfully kept tens of thousands of fans from attending Beitar Jerusalem’s matches.
There is no redemption in Forever Pure — the bad guys win this one. The owner unloads the team, and faces corruption charges in France. The formerly beloved captain joins Beitar’s rival club, and others are forced out. What’s worse, the fans’ vitriol predates the arrival of Sadayev and Kadiyev — “forever pure” is a reference to banners calling for a racially and religiously “pure” team prior to the team’s first Muslim players. The fans only come back when Beitar Jerusalem plays a Palestinian team, whose fans are equally full of venom, and remain after the season when the two Chechens’ contracts are up.
It might be hard to imagine how a bunch of Jewish soccer fans, just a couple generations removed from the Holocaust, could sound so much like their grandparents’ oppressors. But that level of ugliness and apparent contradiction is exactly why we can’t look away.
— Eric Ginsburg