As Hossam Aboul-Magd knows all too well, sometimes ‘The Beautiful Game’ can feel like a misnomer of titanic proportions.
That was the case on February 1, 2012, when violence erupted in the Egyptian city of Port-Said and 74 football fans were killed. It was a day Aboul-Magd, an Egyptian filmmaker, calls “terrifying and depressing.”
It was also the day Aboul-Magd arrived in Cairo to begin filming his documentary, “American Pharoah: Bob Bradley and the Egyptian Soccer Team, the Inside Story.”
The documentary, set to be released in January 2014, follows former U.S. Men’s National Team coach, Bob Bradley, as he manages the Egyptian Men’s National Team through the World Cup qualifying process in Africa. The film provides unprecedented access and behind-the-scenes coverage of Bob and his wife, Lindsay, as they adjust to life in Egypt and the country finds its identity following a heated political revolution.
It was a project that came naturally to Aboul-Magd. As a self-described “crazy football fan,” a massive supporter of the Egyptian Men’s National Team and a long-time admirer of Bradley, the 41 year old jumped at the opportunity to tell this story.
From his home in Washington D.C., Aboul-Magd reached out to Michael Kammerman, media coordinator for the U.S. Men’s National Team, who put the filmmaker in touch with Bradley. The first time Aboul-Magd spoke to Bradley it was around Christmas, 2011, and the two discussed the project for nearly an hour.
Ever the pragmatist, Bradley had done his homework on Aboul-Magd and had plenty of questions and concerns about the project. The political, social and financial obstacles around the documentary were numerous. Yet Bradley wanted the film to be made and for Aboul-Magd to tell the story.
And so, in the face of tragedy and peril, Aboul-Magd set out to capture what it has been like for the Bradley family and the nation of Egypt during this time of change. Directing, producing, shooting and doing the sound all by himself, Aboul-Magd is a one man field crew who strives for intimacy by not imposing himself on the characters. “It is super important to make the staff and players feel they can trust me, and I believe they do,” the filmmaker said.
Before beginning the project, Aboul-Magd always thought Bradley was an amazing character. But the more he films Bradley, the deeper his respect and admiration grows for the coach. “I have no issues saying that I’m biased towards the Bradley’s,” Aboul-Magd admits. “Bob and Lindsay are one of the nicest, kindest and most sincere couple I ever met.”
Not only are Bradley and his team facing qualification amidst the rebuilding of Egyptian democracy, Aboul-Magd noted, but they are doing so “despite not being paid, not playing in front of their fans [and] not getting any support from the government.” This kind of sacrifice has made Bradley’s presence in Egypt larger than life.
He is a celebrity not only because he is the manager of the national team but because of the humanitarian and charity work he does all over Egypt. “It’s very normal to hear locals calling him ‘an Egyptian like us,'” says Aboul-Magd. “During one of the film’s interviews, one Egyptian journalist told me ‘I hope Egyptians love Egypt the same way Bob Bradley loves Egypt’,” he explains. “It tells you a lot about the man.”
The story is not only incredible because of the conditions in Egypt but because The Pharoah‘s are through to the final round of 2014 World Cup qualifying in Africa after securing a 1-0 victory over Mozambique on June 16th. The victory ensures that Egypt will be one of the ten nations through to this fall’s African play-offs for Brazil 2014. If they succeed in advancing to Brazil it will be the first time Egypt has qualified for the World Cup since 1990.
The national team’s success, Aboul-Magd explains, is largely due to Bradley’s influence on the side’s style of play. Before the American coach arrived, Egypt used to play a more Latin American style. Now, the team has become a lot tougher, has incredible stamina and possesses a winning mentality.
To any American soccer fan, this is hardly surprising.
Aboul-Magd will continue to follow The Pharoah’s through next fall’s African play-offs, at which point he and his off-field crew will finish up post-production of the film and send it to the Sundance Film Festival. The film will also feature on PBS, the network that commissioned the research and development of the project, as well as helped fund it.
How the story ends, only time will tell.
For Aboul-Magd, the goal is not to reach the World Cup but to provide a vehicle that exposes how one man has managed to change the mentalities of the Egyptian players and people alike.
Executive Producer: Charles Stuart
Producer/Writer: Sandy Petrykowski
Editor: Lesly Kubistal