Alternately sobering and exhilarating—and ultimately something of a bonding experience—The Workers' Cup should appeal to footy fans, FIFA haters, anyone curious about the way Doha is rising and Qatar is preparing for the 2022 World Cup, and social justice warriors. Are you in one of those camps?

In Qatar's company camps, soccer is the opiate of the migrant workers, modern day slaves who signed up to send a paycheque home, and got a lot less than they bargained for. Once you arrive in Qatar, the company you signed up with controls your ability to leave, to quit, to relax. FIFA 2022's organizing committee has seen to it that 24 of the construction companies who have lured cheap labour from Asia, Africa, and Arabia, will be able to field a team of workers that the companies can rally around. The idea is to raise spirits, foster camaraderie, and personal investments in the buildings they are constructing. In a culture that treats foreigners with little more than thinly veiled scorn, the gesture can be understood cynically, but for the workers, the chance to play is a godsend. These guys work twelve hours a day, often seven days a week, and there are no other releases from the pressure of their job open to them, other than to kick it up on the pitch.  

A still from Adam Sobel's The Worker's Cup, image via Hot DocsA still from Adam Sobel's The Worker's Cup, image via Hot Docs

The practices and games are a tonic, and the only reason we're privileged to get this intimate glimpse of what's going on in the Gulf. Filmmaker Adam Sobel got permission to film a team moving up through a soccer tournament, but now has a document of life under pressure. One learns that because of the extraordinary situation Qatar's construction workers find themselves in, they have no choice but to rise above it all or crack; despite their virtual enslavement they simply have to refuse the coopting of their spirit.

It's inspiring stuff at times, flustering at others, and impressive in its ability to get you engaged with the players and their aspirations for some brief escapes, and ultimate freedom.

—Craig White

The Workers Cup plays three times at the TIFF Bell Lightbox: tonight at 9:30, Friday the 28th at 1:15 PM, and Sunday May 7 at 9 PM.

***

What comes to mind thinking of Singapore? From thousands of miles away, an image of the sovereign city-state springs to life as a bustling metropolis, full of the "bright lights big city" attractions of a bustling and fast-paced—and politically inhibited—Asian Tiger economy. Cars and crowds and skyscrapers fill the mental picture, all in fast shots that capture the energy of a metropolis of over 5 million people. But the celebrated and deceptively subversive filmmaker Tan Pin Pin sees the city through a different lens. 

The Singaporean director's latest feature, In Time to Come, finds moments of stillness in the heart of the city. Subtle and sometimes sad, a careful composition of extended shots creates a contemplative, almost haunting mood. Rows of children sit cross-legged, awaiting the morning bell. Workers tear up a tree. A security guard stands watch in an empty stadium. A mall fills, and empties. A solitary man sits in the barrel of a tunnel. 

A still from Tan Pin Pin's In Time to Come, image via Hot Docs A still from Tan Pin Pin's In Time to Come, image via Hot Docs

Exploring the passage of time, the camera's unyielding presence brings us face to face with quiet, liminal moments, which exist whether we pay attention to them or not. Framing the film, two time capsules are shown, one opened, and one closed. While the time capsules hint at the passage of decades, the quietly playful camera observing them digests each second in its unadorned entirety. As a viewer, you become aware of the fractions of each moment as they slip into the maw of time. 

Among the moments of relative stillness, a portrait of a changing city also emerges. Shots of construction and demolition capture only the briefest glimpse of each project, but, taken together, they hint at changes—including the continuous erasure of the past—that shape the urban realm over a longer span.  

It's hard to think of many films that take such unadorned banality, and make it so compelling. And afterwards, it's hard not to take the feeling with you. One second passes. And then another. And then, I suppose, a lifetime. 

—Stefan Novakovic  

In Time to Come will have its North American Premiere at this year's Hot Docs Festival. The film screens at the TIFF Bell Lightbox at 6:15 tonight, 6:30 PM on Wednesday May 3rd, and 9:15 PM on Thursday May 4th.