FilmAid Screenings in Jordan, 2015

#WithSyria screening, March 2014

#WithSyria screening, March 2014

As the prolonged conflict in Syria moves into its fifth year, over 3.9 million Syrians have been forced to flee their homes. This number continues to rise daily. 

The #WithSyria campaign began on the third anniversary of the conflict. In March 2014, FilmAid International traveled to Jordan's Za'atari Refugee Camp, close to the Syrian border, to host a screening of the Palm d'Or-winning film, Le Ballon Rouge (The Red Balloon) to an audience of Syrian refugees.

FilmAid is now back in Jordan one year later to conduct a Mobile Cinema Screening series for women, children and youth within rural and urban areas of Jordan.  

Children take part in a discussion after educational screening, March 2015 

Children take part in a discussion after educational screening, March 2015 

FilmAid has partnered up with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and Save the Children to deliver critical health and protection messages to over 1,000 Syrian refugees who have been forced to flee their country. As well as screening educational content, we also show films for entertainment, which provide much-needed joy and psychological relief for communities that have gone through extraordinary trauma. In addition, events like our Mobile Cinema Screenings enhance community cohesion.

During the screenings, youth and children have been able to take part in facilitated community-based discussions. Some children have already expressed their wishes and aspirations to continue their studies, and discussed the problems and challenges they face daily in the refugee camp.

We would like to thank Greyscale Films for their help to make the screenings possible, as well as the other coalition partners, UNHCR and Save the Children. 

If you'd like to support FilmAid's program in Jordan, please visit our Donate page and help us continue to bring life-saving information and hope to Syrian refugees. 

FilmAid in Afghanistan

One hundred Afghan children squeeze themselves inside a small classroom outside Kabul; the lights dim, and a twister in Kansas fills the screen. It’s The Wizard of Oz and for these children, ages 6 to 14, it is the first film they’ve ever seen. Before the screening, their teacher, a spirited woman in a red head shawl, has patiently explained the whole Oz story to them, so they’re able to follow the plot. Although the film is in English, the kids are utterly transfixed; their mouths hang open and they gasp with palpable shock when the film blooms from black and white into color. Out of respect for the local sense of propriety, a screening committee deemed the munchkins in frilly pink tutus inappropriate, and they were correspondingly fast-forwarded.

Not only have these children never seen movies, they have neither TV nor radio. Under the Taliban decree, they were never allowed even to see a photo of a woman---or a man pictured from the head down. All song and dance were outlawed. When Caroline Baron, FilmAid founder, asks the children to sing a song for her, she is met with blank stares. The children don’t know any songs. 

In late February 2002, three FilmAid volunteers flew to Kabul to see if they could set up a program for people in Afghan camps (called the “internally displaced”). Caroline Baron was accompanied by Michael Mailer, also a film producer, and Ed Beason, a logistician/filmmaker. Helping them on the ground in Kabul was Peter Bussian, information officer for the IRC, the New York-based group under whose auspices FilmAid has been working. They had much to accomplish: to meet with NGOs who might be interested in becoming local partners with FilmAid, to assess whether movies could be safely shown in a devoutly Muslim country that had been at war for almost 25 years, to do test screenings with children in Kabul, and to check out the local infrastructure---including the size of the potholes in roads that FilmAid trucks would need to drive. Movie screens bolted atop flatbed trucks are FilmAid’s novel solution to showing pictures in refugee camps---mainly outdoors, under the stars. 

Ensuring the safety of moviegoers was harder to assess. In Kabul, peacekeepers are everywhere, and although the city appears in parts to be one big bomb crater, it generally feels safe. Even miles outside the city, Baron, Mailer and Beason stumbled upon some British special forces hiding in the turrets of an abandoned palace. They revealed themselves shortly after a shattering earthquake, measuring 7.2 on the richter scale, shook the countryside. The soldiers leaned out from their tower and yelled down to Baron, asking her if she knew anything about earthquakes and what did she think---should they climb down from their turret? “I told them, yes, in my experience, there are usually aftershocks,” said Baron, and the English special forces took her advice. 

Haplessness about earthquakes aside, foreign peacekeepers appear to make Kabul a fairly secure place for FilmAid. And despite years of a Taliban prohibition on the arts, movies now seem to face no opposition. “Obviously we still need to take precautions to ensure the safety of our audiences,” says Baron, “but my initial fear thankfully seems to have been unfounded.”

What did become startlingly clear, was how much the Afghans wanted—and even needed—a program like FilmAid. 

As the kids spill out of a white minivan, they seem to be performing a magic trick: is it possible that the little van could contain so many children? There are three dozen, at least, or maybe four! They are arriving, along with nearly 400 other children for an afternoon FilmAid screening in an abandoned concrete barn. The kids overflow into old cow stalls—the floors covered with fabric. When Baron asks them what sort of movie they expect, few have seen any—and only one boy speaks up: “I want a fighting movie!” Instead of a Hollywood action flick, however, FilmAid screens Children of Heaven, an Iranian film about a little boy who shares his shoes with his sister because she has lost her own. Filmed in Farsi, the language is very close to the Afghan dialect, Dari, and the children have no problem understanding.Showing pictures from other cultures fulfills one of FilmAid’s goals: to chip away at the often-fatal misunderstanding between peoples. 

Breaking down barriers for women and girls is especially important in Afghanistan. Before the Oz screening, a group of schoolgirls talked shyly about the upcoming movie, and then it became apparent that they never actually expected to be invited to watch the film---that was for boys. Baron was delighted to tell the girls that, not only would they, of course, be included, but also that the film was a story about a little girl.

by Nina Teicholz, FilmAid volunteer June 12, 2002