For years now, the predominantly Arab-American football team at Fordson High School (Dearborn, Mich.) has powered through its season in a unique way: It practices late at night during Ramadan, an Islamic holy month that requires daytime fasting.
And for years after learning about it, Rashid Ghazi, a Muslim of Indian descent, wanted to tell the team's story -- both on the field and off -- through documentary.
It took some convincing. Pestering, even, of coaches, the school board and the community. But once convinced, people around Fordson "opened their hearts and their minds to us," Ghazi said Wednesday, and let their lives be captured on film throughout the 2009 season.
To Ghazi, it's the classic underdog tale. Not so much the team's -- the Tractors are perennial winners despite facing prejudice -- but the filmmakers', as Ghazi and wife Ruhma financed the shoot almost all themselves, got others to work for free, and tested the film in several festivals.
Then came the AMC deal, which Ghazi calls "a phenomenal platform" to tell an "all-American story" featuring a part of the country most audiences don't see, and one often misjudged because of 9/11 and the persistent presence of fundamentalist terrorists.
"I didn't take two years out of my life -- on an 8 p.m.-to-2 a.m. basis after work -- just to make a movie that I could feel good about," said Ghazi, who works for a company that televises high school sporting events for ESPN and other networks. "My goal for the movie was to educate my own fellow Americans and let them know who Arabs and who Muslim-Americans really are."
Already, he said, people seem interested. Of course he wants more theaters to pick it up. But some colleges have inquired about showing it, and he's working with others.
The filmmaker even spent Wednesday in Washington, at a screening hosted by the U.S. Department of State.
"We've gotten a great response," Ghazi said. "I think the movie's been really eye-opening for a lot of people."