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11mm Football Film Festival kicks off more international than ever

11mm, the world’s largest football film festival, kicked off on Thursday in Berlin with an international crowd uniting across borders to celebrate football's most memorable moments - like the infamous Wembley goal.

11mm, the world’s largest football film festival, kicked off on Thursday in Berlin with an international crowd uniting across borders to celebrate football’s most memorable moments – like the infamous Wembley goal.
Football can be a uniting force for people across the globe. And that spirit of togetherness remains, even when it comes to some of the sport’s most divisive moments – at least when those moments are made into a compelling film.

Take what’s known in Germany as the controversial “Wembley-Tor,” for example. In the 101st minute of the 1966 World Cup final at London’s Wembley stadium, England striker Geoff Hurst’s close-range shot hit the cross bar and came down right on the German goal line.

Germans still insist that the shot never fully crossed the goal line while the England faithful say it was rightly counted as a goal.

Not only has that infamous moment been the topic of many a lively conversation, but it was also the subject of a documentary shot in 1966, which was brought back onto the big screen at the opening night of the 13th edition of the 11mm International Football Film Festival.

The documentary is aptly named “Goal” and it’s all about the 1966 World Cup. In addition to exploring the controversial final, the film recounts other memorable moments involving the Queen and a vanishing trophy. The film benefits from another historical moment: the 1966 World Cup was the first ever to be broadcast on television – in black and white.

Bringing Wembley back to life

The 11mm Film Festival is the largest in the world dedicated solely to football. The screening of “Goal” drew an international audience and plenty of reminiscing about that fateful shot taken at Wembley five decades ago.

“A goal like this wouldn’t be possible these days,” said festival co-director Andreas Leimbach-Niaz.

“Today goal-line technology would tell us within 30 seconds whether it was a goal or not and no one would remember the situation 50 years later. But back then, the linesman got a memorial in Azerbaijan and the referee wrote a book about it. And that’s also what we’re here for, to remember the special moments of football.”

There’s one guy in particular who remembers the moment: former West German national team player Max Lorenz, who attended the opening night as a guest of honor.

“It was definitely not in,” he said. Lorenz was a reserve player in 1966 and watched the infamous Wembley goal from the bench. “That’s why I had a much better view and saw that the goal was definitely not in,” Lorenz said laughing.

His two former teammates, Sigfried Held and Horst-Dieter Höttges, both played in that game and came to the festival to reminisce about the good old days – picking the night of the “Goal” screening to do so.

Getting to know the world

“We played in the World Cup in England with the best team Germany has ever seen, that’s something you’ll never forget,” Lorenz said while posing for a photo before the start of the movie.

“We were able to get to know the world because of football, I will always be grateful for that,” he added.

And getting to know the world also seems to be the underlying motto of this year’s 11mm festival.

“We’re more international than ever before,” said Andreas Leimbach-Niaz, the festival’s co-director.

“We have filmmakers from Japan and Australia here; it’s unbelievable how big it’s gotten and that they come all the way here. We didn’t expect this when we started with a tiny festival in 2007.”

‘Football brings people together’

The broader underlying message of the 11mm festival, that football can transcend the pitch, may sound like a cliché. But it’s perhaps more important now than ever before, as Europe’s political arena becomes increasingly polarized.

“Football is something that connects people, not just us teammates,” said Lorenz while smiling towards his former teammates, Höttges and Held. “It connects nations.”

Held agreed. “Football brings people together,” he said. “It creates similarities more than differences.”

The festival’s opening night was a perfect example of that. The room was filled with laughter and friendly chatter in German, English, Italian, French and Arabic.

Rafiqullah Mangal and his friends embodied that diversity perfectly. They’re refugees from Afghanistan who are as passionate about Bundesliga powerhouse Bayern Munich as any Bavarian.

“People in Afghanistan watch football all the time. Tonight reminds me of a night four years ago, when we all saw our first football match together in Kabul,” a smiling Mangal said.

A sign for the future

Leimbach-Niaz sees this as a sign that football itself is becoming more international as well.

“Borders don’t matter as much anymore these days, you can’t stop that from happening, even if many people are trying and are upset by it,” he said.

“But we want to represent the positive outcome of open borders here, that’s why we invited such an international crowd this year and we even have refugees who are attending. We need to approach each other and learn from each other and figure out how to all get along.”

And he thinks football can play a huge role in this process. “Many people just haven’t realized how powerful this sport can be.”

As the European Union grapples with a growing refugee crisis and a potential exit by the UK, perhaps the upcoming European Championship, which kicks off on June 10, will show the continuing power of football to bridge borders.

What’s to come

The 11mm festival will run until Monday, March 21, and features 72 different documentaries and films from 24 different countries, both for adults and for children. This year, France, the Euro 2016 host, is presenting its own film series at the 11mm festival.

The topics range from portraying France’s multicultural football team, (“Foot et immigration, 10 ans d’histoire commune” by Gilles Perez and Eric Cantona) to an all-female football squad in Nepal (“Sunakali” by Bhojraj Bhat).

Other movies being screened at this year’s 11mm festival deal with former football stars struggling with the fleeting nature of fame (“Gascoigne” by Jane Preston) as well as African kids dreaming of the bright lights in Barcelona and Chelsea (“Comme Un Lion” by Samuel Collardey). The sport’s role in immigration, integration, diversity and social engagement is explored throughout the festival.

There will be more special guests as well, such as Shmuel Rosenthal, who in 1972 became the first Israeli to ever play in the Bundesliga, despite his country’s difficult relationship with Germany after the Second World War. Rosenthal’s personal biography is another example of how football can unite countries.

The film “90 minutes for Israel and Germany” honors Rosenthal’s achievements as well as German-Israeli relations that were strengthened through football. For the screening at the 11mm festival on Sunday, Rosenthal is to return to Germany for the first time since his single season with Borussia Mönchengladbach. He won’t just reunite with some of his former teammates but will also meet Almog Cohen, an Israeli football star who is currently playing for Bundesliga side Ingolstadt.

The festival will wrap up with the 11mm short film festival “Shortkicks” on Monday. DW pundit and former football star Thomas Berthold, who won the World Cup with Germany in 1990, will be part of the jury.

DW’s Bundesliga program Kick-Off! s a long-standing partner of the 11mm Football Film Festival. DW-TV will broadcast a full Kick off Special on March 24 all about football and film. Thoams Berthold will be the host for this special edition of Kick off!.

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