Youth re-imagine life through short films

Young women participants carry a camera in the al-Aroub refugee camp. (Voices Beyond Walls)

Palestinian youth premiered nine short films at public screenings in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip last week. Forty youths worked in small groups during two parallel three-week workshops conducted in the al-Aroub (West Bank) and Jabaliya (Gaza) refugee camps during the month of July. Palestinian and international trainers facilitated the workshops through the participatory media program Voices Beyond Walls, in partnership with local youth community organizations.

The Re-imagining Project is a program of digital video, photography and storytelling workshops that supports Palestinian youth in expressing their cultural identity, personal narratives, and creative visions.

Youth participating in the workshops ranged from ages 10 to 16, and most had little prior experience with digital media and film production. Participants from al-Aroub showcased their films in a center on 29 July run by the camp’s popular committee. The Jabaliya participants held a screening on 1 August at al-Mathaf, the museum in Gaza, where they also inaugurated a photography exhibition. Approximately 200 people attended each event. The films will be screened across the West Bank and Gaza and other international festivals and universities in coming months.

“This is just the beginning,” said Samahair Rumme, director of al-Aroub’s Child Play and Animation Center, the host site for the workshop in al-Aroub camp. Rumme told the films’ audience that fifty youth had signed up for the workshop, though they were only able to enroll twenty. She explained that after the local trainers developed initial skills by working with the Voices Beyond Walls team, programming for the camp’s children would continue to explore the use of still and moving images to express themselves.

The films created by the participants raised issues affecting the lives of all Palestinian youth as well as concerns related specifically to children in the refugee camps. One film humorously depicts the everyday concerns of students from al-Aroub regarding Israeli soldiers closing the main gate to the camp and preventing them from attending school. The local audience at the screening laughed heartily during a scene with two kids acting as soldiers, wearing branches and bushes on their heads and arguing in gibberish, while the main character waits to pass through to school.

Youth participants practice filming in Gaza. (Voices Beyond Walls)

In the workshops, the youth first learned the techniques and aesthetics of digital photography and practiced those skills through a two-day community mapping activity. Facilitators led team-building exercises as they introduced the basics of story development and the youth began to work in teams of four or five to create story-boards and scripts for their films. While the teenagers were shy during drama exercises like forum theater — especially in mixed gender groups — they were delighted to act out new roles and create expressive plays. With their stories finalized and acting rehearsed, the youth learned to use video cameras to begin shooting their film ideas on-location.

“It was my first time using cameras, and though it was a little difficult we overcame the challenges,” said Abeer Ahmed, one of the youth from Gaza’s Jabaliya camp. “When we went to meet a few families that suffered during the war in Gaza, their stories were very moving; I was very sad about their situation and was about to cry many times [during the interviews].” Her comments can be heard in the short video interviews the youth conducted with each other at the close of the workshop.

The final stage of the workshop — and often the most arduous stage, according to project leaders — was the digital editing and post-production work for the films. “How did you handle the editing software?” another student asked her peer in the interviews. “I had some difficulties at first, but now I feel like a professional,” he replied.

Since 2006, Voices Beyond Walls has developed the youth media program with participating community centers in refugee camps throughout the occupied West Bank. This year marked the project’s launch in Gaza. Dr. Nitin Sawhney, co-founder and director of Voices Beyond Walls, said of the Gaza workshop, “one of the most poignant moments for me was working with articulate young boys and girls in the workshop, professionally interviewing and filming human rights organizations and war-affected families in Jabaliya and Beit Lahiya, to cinematically capture their experiences, having lived through the war themselves.”

The films produced in Gaza tackled challenging and unusual issues in creative cinematic ways, including a young girl accidentally meeting a deaf person while trying to escape the noise of diesel generators in the camp, and an artistic interpretation of the separation of lives between the West Bank and Gaza.

The films are currently available on DVD and are being submitted to film festivals worldwide and they will be released regularly on YouTube in the coming months. Youth video shorts produced in previous workshops are hosted on YouTube Voices Beyond Walls Channel and the project’s website Voices Beyond Walls. Voices Beyond Walls is supported in part by Les Enfants, Le Jeu et l’Education (EJE), Sharek Youth Forum, the French Cultural Center in Gaza, the MIT Center for Future Civic Media, and the Genevieve McMillan-Reba Stewart Foundation.

Kara Newhouse is a youth educator and journalist who spent six months working in the West Bank. Visit her blog at: