Review by Sean Boelman
Documentaries about athletes are an easy ticket to the heartstrings. After all, who doesn’t love a great underdog story? However, Waad Al-Kateab’s We Dare to Dream doubles down on the emotion by telling the story of a group of extraordinary athletes who overcame tremendous odds — and it’s very impactful as a result.
The film tells the story of the athletes on the IOC Refugee Olympic Team at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. The main selling point of this movie is the extraordinary access Al-Kateab had to the athletes throughout their Olympic journey, from qualifiers through training and even at the Games themselves.
Al-Kateab is clearly a skilled director, as her feature debut For Sama earned an Oscar nomination for Best Documentary Feature. Although her sophomore effort is much more straightforward and conventional, it is nonetheless compellingly-made with an effective blend of fly-on-the-wall footage with broadcast materials from the Olympics.
In the film, we spend time with several of the athletes who were selected for the team, with a particular focus on a Tae Kwon Do martial artist, a weightlifter, and a rower. Al-Kateab does such an exceptional job of making the audience love these subjects that you will put aside your national allegiances to root for them.
With the movie following so many different subjects over such a long period of time, the end result does feel somewhat rushed. However, Al-Kateaab weaves through the different athletes’ stories seamlessly — much as Olympics coverage weaves between sports — making the audience feel as if they have been transported back to the Tokyo Olympic Games.
Of course, given that the film is about refugees, there is a lot to be said here about the situation in the world that has gotten to this trying point. There’s something utterly extraordinary about these athletes’ resilience and their commitment to showing the world that everything can be alright — even if you face tremendous adversity as they have.
Al-Kateab also manages to avoid a feeling of crass promotionalism extraordinarily well. Although the movie is clearly made in support of the team and their mission, it never feels like a promotional video or commercial. Instead, Al-Kateab focuses on the uplifting aspects of their story.
We Dare to Dream might be conventional in its storytelling, but the extraordinary story it tells makes it a film that is absolutely worth watching. If you’re looking for an uplifting tale of perseverance despite the odds, look no further than We Dare to Dream.
We Dare to Dream screens at the 2023 Tribeca Festival, which runs June 7-18 in NYC and June 19 through July 2 online.