I recently watched a film called And Life Goes On by an Iranian filmmaker by the name of Abbas Kiarostami. It was the follow-up to his feature debut, Where Is the Friend’s Home?, in 1987, a simple tale about a boy trying to find out where his friend lives in Koker, a rural part of Iran in which most people don’t have addresses.
This was going to be his only foray into film, but a few years later, an earthquake devastated the region, killing over 50,000 people, in 1990. Shortly after the earthquake, Kiarostami traveled to Koker with his son, hoping to discover the fate of the two non-professional child actors who starred in the movie.
He did not document this event, which consisted of a long, aroundabout car ride in which he had to navigate areas that were blocked off due to the effects of the earthquake, and the many people that he encountered along the way. Instead, he was so moved that, two years later, he recounted this experience in the film And Life Goes On, a metacommentary in which the director of Where Is the Friend’s Home? goes searching to uncover the fate of the two boys from his film, with (non-professional) actors playing the roles of himself as director and his son.
I mention this because it struck me as relevant as NFL training camps open today. There is a key moment late in the film in which one of the villagers near Koker is seen atop a hill attempting to mount an antenna. The villagers, set up in a makeshift tent village in a nearby plain after their homes were destroyed, were getting set up to watch a soccer match.
“With the earthquake and all the mourning, you’re going to watch the game?”, the actor who plays the director asks the man setting up the antenna. “I’m in mourning, too”, he replies. “I lost my sister and three nieces and nephews. But what can we do? The World Cup comes once every four years, and life goes on”.
This scene encapsulates how important sports can be to a society, as it is in ours. Even amid tragedy, they can still turn to sports as entertainment, as a unifying force, as a break from a harsh reality.
2020 has been a harsh reality not just for football fans, but for the world, as it has learned to come to grips with a viral pandemic that has claimed the lives of several hundreds of thousands and continues to expose millions at risk.
Amid all of that was a boiling over of racial tensions in the United States, which spilled over into other parts of the world as well. Both of these themes will continue to color the 2020 season. But the beauty is that we are now actually gearing up to have a 2020 season.
Even that remains a somewhat fragile prospect, but it’s a point of unity that we all share, something that we understand we may have nearly lost, and can still lose. Something that is important to everybody who comes here. Life goes on, as does the impact of sports in society, with the NFL reentering the picture.