“No cheesy music to manipulate emotions. No images replicated a million times. Just a young curious mind producing some of the most powerful documentation of the Syrian refugee experience I’ve seen.” – Mark Strandquist
This simple, powerful film was made by Khaldiya, a participant of the Another Kind of Girl Collective workshops, which were designed by filmmaker Laura Doggett, and run with her translator and co-facilitator, Tasneem Toghoj, in Jordan’s Za’atari Refugee Camp. The workshops “engaged Syrian girls in artistic and technical training in photo and video, with encouragement to reflect on and voice their own experiences. Each individual girl was encouraged to follow the personal and artistic voice that she was discovering, and to experiment with different artistic approaches to storytelling.” 1
And, as Strandquist notes, the result is fresh and insightful. The images are obviously influenced by Doggett’s own pedagogical response to the largely “tragic,” war photography tropes sent to mainstream media of the camp, and objective to disseminate stories that balance the lack of nuance therein. Regardless, this video is not part of the heavy-handed, leaning at times to gimmicky, “kids with camera’s” participatory trope. It certainly focuses on those things we might associate with a child perspective: domesticity, friendships, education (or lack thereof), but does so in a way that doesn’t feel heavily curated by Doggett’s aspirations, nor overly emotionally manipulative.
The film is at once about Khaldiya and her peers experience of camp, and her/their discovery of film making: “I’m filming from my own personal perspective. I live in the camp, I am within the camp, and I know the camp. An outsider will miss a lot of the deeper meanings because they haven’t felt what it’s like to live here.” 2 Despite the methodology and the setting the film somehow manages to remain delicate, neither concealing the politic behind the production, nor overtly exalting Khaldiya as a radical storyteller. Though of course to be a teen Syrian refugee girl making a film about your day-to-day life in a refugee camp explicitly and deliberately shifts the power dynamics of photo-based medium, and examines the outsider-insider tensions of making, in significant ways.
The process and experience is, of course, best described in Khaldiya’s own words:
When I arrived at the Za’atari refugee camp in Jordan three years ago, I was overwhelmed. My family left our village in the region of Syria where the revolution began, after the area was bombed. My mother and six younger siblings and I suddenly became eight of the world’s 4.5 million Syrian refugees, and we have been living with 80,000 of them in our camp ever since.
Life in a refugee camp was different from what I’d expected. While it is hard in many ways, it has challenged me to be stronger and more independent. Now I am sharing my experiences in this Op-Doc video, which I made through a media workshop at an activity center in the camp in 2014, working with a visiting filmmaker to film as much of my life as I could.
Before learning to film, I felt like there was a huge part missing in my life. The only thing that filled it for me was filming. Filming makes me feel accomplished. I used to be shy, but when I started learning how to film, and also realized that the image of a refugee camp can be distorted by portrayals by outsiders, I knew that I needed to overcome this shyness — to speak not only to the community around me, but to people in the rest of the world. I walk through my days with my camera always in my hand, and when I encounter a scene I think people would be interested in seeing, I film it — life as it is.
I’m filming from my own personal perspective. I live in the camp, I am within the camp, and I know the camp. An outsider will miss a lot of the deeper meanings because they haven’t felt what it’s like to live here.
Now I am trying to pass on what I’ve learned about filmmaking to younger girls in this camp. I want to show the rest of the world that even though we live in a refugee camp, and have different lives from others, we still have dreams and ambitions. We are creative. We strive to rise above our limitations and work toward our dreams. I feel it’s my responsibility not just to tell the world that truth, but to let people see it for themselves.
This video is part of a series produced by independent filmmakers who have received support from the nonprofit Sundance Institute.
Now 18 years old, Khaldiya lives with her family in a camp for Syrian refugees in Jordan, where she documents her life on film through a media workshop. She is using only her first name here to protect her identity.