“Fordson: Faith, Fasting and Football” is an efficient, cable-ready docu that takes an up-close view of Arab-American high schoolers, parents, coaches and educators in Dearborn, the Michigan city that, as one interviewee pointedly notes, has the largest concentration of Arabs in any metropolitan area outside the Middle East. After passing through the fest circuit and rushing through limited theatrical and noncommercial play, this Slamdance special jury prizewinner should score with viewers in both mainstream and sports-centric TV venues.
Helmer Rashid Ghazi (whose resume includes several ESPN and Fox Sports Network productions) focuses primarily on Fordson High School, a Dearborn institution where well over 90% of the student population is of Arab ancestry and administrators must be mindful of Muslim customs and practices. The end of Ramadan was declared a school holiday, principal Imad Fadlallah explains, for a purely practical reason: Most students took the day off long before a holiday was authorized.
Ramadan falls during football season, and the student athletes followed by Ghazi duly observe the rules about all-day fasting throughout the month. (One player admits to fantasizing about Snickers and Mountain Dew during after-school practice.) But the sacrifice doesn’t appear to impede their playing. And it certainly doesn’t diminish their enthusiasm — or the intensity of their coaching — as they approach the biggest game of the season against their more affluent cross-town rivals at Dearborn High.
Despite the big build-up for this grudge match, however, there’s only perfunctory coverage of the game’s first half in the pic’s final minutes. For most of its running time, “Fordson” wanders far from the gridiron to offer overall impressions of a close-knit community of Arab-Americans who, in the wake of 9/11, often have found themselves targeted and stereotyped as militant Islamists or worse.
The doc’s most colorful figure, Yusuf “Big Joe” Berry, a gregarious business owner and football fan, claims neither he nor any of his Arab-American comrades has any sympathy for Osama bin Laden. (“He deserves to be shot. On national television,” Berry opines.) But paranoia is widespread, and false assumptions trigger rash actions, as when Baquer Sayed, a Fordson High wide receiver actively wooed by college recruiters, is arrested with a classmate because of their “suspicious” behavior during a trip to Ohio.
Pic ends on a rousingly upbeat note; there’s even a bit of literal flag-waving during an extended sequence celebrating the melting pot that is America. But Ghazi deftly balances the feel-good exuberance with the acknowledgment that the young Fordson high schoolers, along with their friends and families, continue to face the prejudices of those who insist that Arab-Americans — even those who excel at the all-American game of football — may not be true Americans after all.
Production values are first-rate.