Sharjah fest shows triumph of refugee spirit amid suffering - GulfToday

Sharjah fest shows triumph of refugee spirit amid suffering


‘Safe Zone – Four Years Later’ is the fourth documentary to have emerged from Marco Bollinger’s regular visits to the refugee camp in Lebanon.

Through its 20-minute original documentary, “Safe Zone – Four Years Later,” Sharjah International Film Festival for Children and Youth (SIFF), in its seventh edition shifts the focus from stories of trauma and struggles of the Syrian refugee crisis and turns the lens on what the next generation of Syrian women are becoming, aided by the strength and perspective that has carried them through their exile experience.

The 2019 production, directed by LA filmmaker Marco Bollinger, portrays the everyday lives of a group of adolescent girls Bollinger met at the Saadnayel refugee camp in Lebanon four years ago.

Sheikha Jawaher Bint Abdullah Al Qasimi, Director of FUNN – Sharjah Media Arts for Youth and Children FUNN and director of SIFF, commented: “Every year, this film festival brings stories of young people caught in the chaos of war and strife. We believe such films deliver crucial messages to our children and youth, and open their eyes and hearts enabling them to connect to situations outside their realm of experience.

“Safe Zone is SIFF’s attempt to put a human face to the suffering,” she added. “To reduce refugees to mere statistics is dehumanising and only focusing on their suffering and helplessness is misleading, as within these unthinkably challenging circumstances the indomitable human spirit shines the brightest.

“Our original production this year celebrates the strength and unique perspectives of young refugees around the world who haven’t given up on their future, despite the odds. In bringing these stories on reel, we aim to alter perceptions and inspire our young audience by showing them struggles of those their own age, and ultimately, make them care.”

At a video storytelling workshop held for the children this year, thanks to a SIFF grant, Bollinger collaborated with the young protagonists who have shot much of the film themselves, interviewing each other and co-directing to create a unique perspective on their own lives.

“I was so impressed by the indomitable spirit of these young girls that I constantly began to think about how I would be if I were in their shoes. Would I be as strong, as resilient and capable of so much love and caring for others? The truth is, I really don’t know.”

“My goal has always been to encourage their voices and give them a platform to share their stories,” says Bollinger. “I knew early on that there’s an element of their story that I could never tell by myself.”

“Safe Zone – Four Years Later” is the fourth documentary to have emerged from his regular visits to the refugee camp in Lebanon.

Like millions of people across the world, Bollinger admits to having felt an overwhelming sense of helplessness as the war and refugee crisis unfolded in Syria several years ago. Months later, what shocked and upset him was when a detailed story on the shutdown of the national power grid in Syria and its impact on everyday lives failed to move him.

“I didn’t feel a thing; I felt numb as if I had been desensitised to the horrifying events,” says the filmmaker. “There were no human stories to relate to and I realised that telling such stories was precisely where my skills lay. So, at the first opportunity, I packed my cameras and travelled to Lebanon and started filming there four years ago.”

Safe zones, he explains, are the informal schools for refugees in Lebanon.

Bollinger says many children who never attended school previously can now read and write. “They have larger dreams, even professional dreams. It is our responsibility to ensure that this young generation are equipped with the tools necessary to rebuild their culture and society.”

“These kids didn’t make this war; they inherited it,” he says, “and they are the ones paying the price for it. I hope this movie helps break down the caricature of the Syrian refugee and enable each one of us to see our own children in these girls.”

A total of eight short documentaries highlighting the challenges of statelessness posed on the community’s youngest members are being screened at SIFF 2019, which concludes on Friday at the Al Jawaher Reception and Convention Centre (JRCC) in Sharjah. The festival is organised by FUNN – Sharjah Media Arts for Youth & Children.

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