Flying Paper, a documentary about thousands of children attempting to break a kite-flying record on a Gaza beach in 2010, will premiere at this year's London Palestine Film Festival. Jessica Holland talks to the director about the children who helped make it and how the film came about.
Sun sparkling on water, the air filled with kites, excited children beaming at the sky: these aren't the kind of images that are usually conjured up in media reports on Palestine, but they make up the climax of a new feature-length documentary called Flying Paper, which will receive its world premiere at the London Palestine Film Festival this weekend.
Nitin Sawhney, a media studies professor at NYC's New School, had been working with kids in the Palestinian territories for years, training them to create short films, theatre events and journalistic reports.
Together with some of his star pupils, as well as co-director Roger Hill, he documented the 2010 attempt by more than 7,500 Palestinian children to break the Guinness Record for the world's biggest mass kite-flying session on a beach in Gaza.
The film focuses on a brother and sister, Musa and Widad, who joke, bicker and compete as they come up with a design for a kite sturdy enough to hold a digital camera.
"When we fly kites, we feel like we're the ones flying in the sky," Widad reflects during a test run. "We feel that we have our freedom, that there is no siege on Gaza." Her brother looks up at his kite and asks, "Is there anything more beautiful?"
Over the phone from his office in New York, Sawhney - no relation to the British musician Nitin Sawhney, who composed the musical score - explains the making of the film.
What inspired the film?
It was about empowering children to express something about their lives through media. I'm from India but I've lived in the Middle East for half my life, in Iran and Bahrain, and I decided to work in Palestine out of frustration of not being able to understand the genesis of the conflict and wanting to find a way to contribute.
I thought the best thing I could do was to conduct workshops with young Palestinians to have their voices be heard. Mainstream media does not tend to show Palestinian voices very much. The coverage tends to be very bipolar: either about victimisation or terrorism.
How did you start?
We trained the kids in photography, theatre and filmmaking in a dozen refugee camps all over the Palestinian Territories. We produced about 70 short films, but when we came to Gaza three years ago, we wanted to produce a feature length documentary with these children, which would have a higher impact.
The kids are so eloquent about what the kites mean to them.
They see it as an act of creative existence, as a poetic act: one where every kite has a name and has a message. Even making the kite from found materials is a kind of resilient act because they are denied access to everyday materials in Gaza, and they borrow newspapers and make their own glue. It's quite incredible.
You could see them light up as they were building and flying the kites.
For sure. These kids are under a lot of pressure, partly from schoolwork, partly from not having mobility around Gaza, from being very under-resourced and having little access to what we all take for granted.
Most of them have had experience of war; they talk at one point in the film about the bombings and their nightmares. But in most of the scenes in the film they're totally animated and hilarious, and they have a self-esteem that I think is rare in a place of conflict. They're working together and challenging each other. It gives them a real confidence boost.
The London Palestine Film Festival begins on Friday and continues until May 15. A screening of Flying Paper with an introduction from the executive producer Uzma Hasan will be held on Tuesday. Visit www.palestinefilm.org
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