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Touching films by young Syrian refugees shown at The Sharjah International Children’s Film Festival

The Sharjah International Children’s Film Festival beginning on Sunday is the right platform for Syrian refugee children and adolescents in Lebanon to express themselves.
From left, researcher Lara Khalaf with filmmakers Nancy Aridi, Bader Askar, Carmen Molaeb, Wael Aridi, Christina Saad and Ayat Kara Ali. Photos courtesy Diaa Malaeb
From left, researcher Lara Khalaf with filmmakers Nancy Aridi, Bader Askar, Carmen Molaeb, Wael Aridi, Christina Saad and Ayat Kara Ali. Photos courtesy Diaa Malaeb

Sometimes what traumatised children living in conflict zones really need is for their voices to be heard.

The Sharjah International Children’s Film Festival, beginning on October 23, is trying to do just that by providing a platform for Syrian refugee children and adolescents in Lebanon to express themselves in film. The 11 films, screening on October 27, chosen tell the stories of migration, alienation, bullying and small joys.

Yousef El Chemali, a 16-year-old Syrian refugee in Lebanon, describes the harassment youngsters like him face in his film Cicada, while Bouchra Dayyati’s film, Fashion Victims, is about Syrian youngsters adapting to Lebanese lifestyle and trends.

Other films are not inspired by war and displacement. A group of schoolchildren between the ages of 10 and 14 have put together a light-hearted animated film Let’s Do It Together which has nothing to do with conflict.

Diaa Malaeb, a Lebanese children’s animation trainer, who has held workshops with Syrian refugee children and Lebanese teenagers in stop-motion animation, believes animation is a tool which children can use to express themselves without any inhibitions.

“They can tell whatever they want without any taboo or any­one telling them what to say,” says Malaeb. “We discovered that through animation, they can express themselves without exposing themselves to the public.”

In the 11 years he spent working with the international non-governmental organisation Save the Children, Malaeb has trained children in creating animation films produced by Funn – Sharjah Media Arts for Youth and Children.

Sabine Choucair, a certified social therapist and artist also held separate video storytelling workshops for refugee teenagers in Lebanon, as part of a collaboration between the cinema collective Beirut DC and Unicef.

“I’ve been working with different refugees for over 10 years ... I’ve always been intrigued by personal stories because I feel this is the best way to connect and listen to each other’s stories,” she says. “Films or images are very powerful ways for people to express how they feel.”

Choucair’s workshops focus on forming groups that trust each other and feel comfortable with each other. “I always use the body as the first tool, so I use a lot of physical theatre, clown exercises, where they move their bodies. Then we do specific story­telling exercises.

“We dig deeper into their personal stories and decide what stories they want to tell through films. A filmmaker joins me in teaching them technical aspects of filming. They then go shoot and we do the editing,” she says.

So was the process cathartic for the young filmmakers? “I think expressing yourself is healing in one way,” says Choucair. “It was a lot like group therapy, but instead of having one therapist, we had the group becoming the therapist. So for many, the healing process was in the sharing.”

Malaeb says art helps children living in such situations become more resilient by having fun.

“The workshop enabled them to get out of their houses and do something fun, since they don’t go out much like other children,” he says. “They were free to run and play in the playground whenever they wanted. They have to feel the freedom to produce something creative.”

Interestingly, the Syrian children, he says, even wanted to make a film inspired by Bollywood. “Children live in the moment. Their concerns are about small joys like: ‘How I can play more?’. They wrote a story that showed they were clearly affected by Indian movies. So I let them do that.”

The best part for all of them was watching their work come alive on screen. While Malaeb’s students excitedly brought their parents and neighbours for the screening, the teenagers Choucair trained were thrilled when their film was screened at the Beirut Cinema Days film festival.

“There were over 250 people watching ... and them being on stage, answering questions ... you feel you are being heard and that’s healing, at least in a small way,” says Choucair.

Malaeb sums it up perfectly: “I don’t like showing them pity. They are humans capable of doing things like anyone else. The only difference is that they are victims of war. The films show they can grow like any other child anywhere. That is empowering”.

Watch films by refugee children at the Sharjah International Children’s Film Festival on screening on October 27 from 10am at Al Jawaher Reception & Convention Centre. For more details, visit www.sicff.ae. The festival runs until Friday


Updated: October 23, 2016 04:00 AM