Salaam Dunk

Mar 27, 2012

Women’s basketball got its start back in 1892 when the women of Smith College started their team, playing in floor-length dresses and corsets. Playing in a conservative society can be rough on women. And that brings us to our next story, which takes us on a trip, a long trip, to Northern Iraq.

In the town of Sulaimaniyah stands the American University of Iraq, where a women’s basketball program was developed as recently as last year. The team is made up of students from varying tribal and religious backgrounds - Sunni Muslim, Shia Muslim, Christians, and Kurds: groups that have not always gotten along in Iraq. Most of them had never run or played with a ball before they walked through the doors of this school. San Francisco film director David Fine captures the diverse team in his new film, “Salaam Dunk”. KALW's Hana Baba sat down with David to talk.

HANA BABA: What did the girls learn from each other and about each other that brought them closer, despite their cultural differences?

DAVID FINE: Well, let's look at it through the lens of specific girls on the team. Leylan who's sort of the de facto star of the team, she's half Arab and half Kurdish. So she grew up in Baghdad in an environment where here parents encap the two main ethnicities of Iraq. Now obviously, there's more – Turkman and there's others- Iraq is such a diverse place religiously and ethnically. Safaa – Arab, from Baghdad – admits very readily in the film she had a very hard time treating Kurds as she also would her Arab student counterparts. And what's interesting is that her realization that she needs to change and turn that around is really born out of her need and her just intense desire to turn Iraq around. She wants to be - and many students at that university want to - be the leadership class of that country. And what they're realizing is it's not going to work to just go in your corner and get with your own team. That hasn't been working, there's been so much fighting and no resolution for so long that this young generation of Iraqis is realizing the power of acceptance. And I think basketball is a catalyst for that. When you're on a team together and you're working toward a common goal, that stuff just melts away. As a lot of the girls said, it was a non-issue from day one. It was immediately gone.

There will be a free screening of the film on March 29 at 7 pm at the Ellen Driscoll Theater in Piedmont. The director will be leading a discussion after the film.