Conflicts, economic inequality and physical or mental challenges limit the involvement of a large section of youth in film and other cultural pursuits.
An important component of the Ajyal Youth Film Festival in Doha is its partnership with the Giffoni Film Festival, youth’s foremost international film festival which was founded in 1971 by then 18-year-old Claudio Gubitose who remains its director and inspiration. This now year-long cultural event brings in children and young adults from 50 countries to Italy. It is now exported worldwide and Doha hosts its international summit.
Claudio Gubitosi, Director and Founder of Giffoni Experience, said that young people are the first victims of conflict, and through the Doha-Giffoni Youth Media Summit’s Planet-Y, the creative community is taking tangible action to address the problems faced by youth globally.
Children in Conflict
“We want to focus on ways of including children who are not able to attend events such as Ajyal—because of conflicts, economic inequality, or physical and mental challenges. In the context of the global refugee crisis, now, more than ever, it is the time for inclusivity,” said Fatma Al Remaihi, Festival Director and CEO of the Doha Film Institute.
Empowering less fortunate children to share their stories was the focus of a session whose discussion was an emotional experience for the participants with heart-touching visuals and stories of the Syrian refugee crisis. Several panelists shared how to offer tools to young people around the world whose lives have been disrupted by sociopolitical conflict, illness and poverty to tell their stories.
Charlotte Giese, Specialist Advisor for Children & Youth at Danish Film Institute in Denmark, co-founder of the Buster Copenhagen International Film Festival for Children and Youth and former VP of the European Children’s Films Association (ECFA) presented initiatives of the Danish Film Institute in Uganda, Palestine and Lebanon using film as a medium to promote self-expression by young people.
Presenting searing stories from the refugee camps, Mohammed Abu Asaker, Public Information & Communications Officer of UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees), choked on words as he narrated the story of a man who refuses to go home until late into night for fear of facing his children.
He reiterated the gravity of the refugee situation with the number of displaced people increasing to 42,500 per day now compared to 10,900 in 2010, the result of 15 wars that the world witnessed or continue to rage over the past five years. Adding that children pay the price for this, with 51% of all displaced people being below the age of 18, he said the crisis is unprecedented and the worst since the World War II.
Essa Al Mannai, Executive Director, Reach Out to Asia (ROTA), explained the work of the organization in making a tangible difference, including adult literacy trainings, youth leadership programs and those designed to benefit students and teachers. Recounting a program that ROTA conducted four years ago and how it transformed a participant’s life, Al Mannai said that it is such positive stories that keep him inspired. He added that international human aid to promote education is critical.
Matthew Cassel, an independent multimedia journalist and filmmaker, who embarked on a personal journey at the age of 20 from Chicago to the Middle East, narrated how he works to engage children in Gaza creatively, encouraging them to take photographs. It also led to a touring exhibition of their works in the U.S., which was a defining experience for the young people.
Farooq Burney, Director of Al Fakhoora Education Above All, presented a human portrait of the refugees stating “they all had a life similar to your or mine, and all they have today is hope for a bright future led by education.”
Abu Asaker shared the story of a how ten children were asked to make a simple statement, ‘I am a good boy.’ Nine of them expressed it with great difficulty and a good deal of coaxing while one simply couldn’t state it. “They have been living the camps for five years and they are so wounded from inside. It will take a lot of work to help them.”
The session was moderated by Firdoze Bulbulia, award-winning producer and director who is also Chairperson of the Children and Broadcasting Foundation for Africa, former President of the International Centre of Films for Children and Young People and a co-founder of Africa’s Best Channel, a television channel for young people in Nigeria. After producing four feature-length films and several TV productions, she is currently producing “Mandela’s Africa”, a Nelson Mandela legacy project.
Again, underscoring the importance of encouraging children in conflict areas to tell their own stories, the Q&A session was equally engaging with participants discussing the importance of promoting the psycho-social welfare of the refugees.
The session concluded with a call to all of humanity to make a difference – in whichever way they can, as volunteers or through assistance, with Essa Al Mannai reminding the audience a quote by Booker Prize winning author Arundhati Roy: “To never get used to the unspeakable violence and the vulgar disparity of life around you…To try and understand. To never look away. And never, never to forget.”
Planet-Y, a ground-breaking initiative launched in 2014 in Doha in partnership with Italy’s Giffoni Experience now, at its third edition at the Ajyal Youth Film Festival, has assumed tangible shape with the roll-out of five projects: One Platform, Many Voices – the Planet-Y Video Channel, a speciality media channel by and for youth; The Magic Box – An Educational Radio Station for Syrian Children; Content is King – a Youth Production Program; Nomadic – a Festival Cooperation and Exchange Program; and Film Fun in Bed – a Hospital Outreach Program.
Discussions on Neuro-Communication – How to speak the language of the brain; and The Digital World – how to speak the language of youth, were also held. Over 40 delegates from across the world took part in the Summit with the common goal of engaging youth and enriching their lives.
Fatma Al Remaihi said: “Planet-Y emerged from the need to identify a collective, industry-wide strategy to tackle the myriad challenges in the media sphere. Through our workshops, we aim to combine the experiences and wisdom of the Summit participants to create concrete takeaways and action plans. The deliberations of Planet-Y have the power to shape the lives of children, and subsequently our own. Because in helping others we make our own lives meaningful.”
Doha-Giffoni Youth Media Summit aims to make the Planet-Y projects beneficial for youth, said Al Remaihi. “We will follow up on each project and keep them growing. Next July at Giffoni, we will report back on the progress that was made. Many of these projects will take time, but I already see the collaborations coming out of the Summit now as a victory for Planet-Y.”
Describing himself and the mission of the Summit as to be ‘producers of happiness and well-being,” Gubitosi said the time has come to act, not just think and pay lip-service to bright ideas that can bring positive change. “We have to stand together to find practical solutions through a culture of dialogue and knowledge exchange. Planet-Y will help keep up with the ongoing cultural, social, economic and political evolution of younger generations.”
With world events today, this haven of safety and comfort is an important event creating dialogue in a field that we all profess to care about; certainly for our own children, and yet little is written or discussed in the international film circles. Why do films for, about and by children occupy a separate space in the international film world? Aren’t the youth, after all, what all this is really about? Aren’t we all involved in film to make the world a better place? And if so, then for whom? Why is there so little public discussion of this crucial area? Doha Film Institute, Giffoni and some children’s film festivals around the world, like our own Children’s Film Festival Seattle, or TIFF Kids, Lucas in Frankfurt, European Youth Film Festival Flanders in Belgium or Oulu International Children’s and Youth Film Festival in Finland, the British Film Institute‘s Justin Johnson, Kineko International Childrens Film Festival of Tokyo were all here involved in lively panels sharing what has worked and what they would like to see working, embracing change as much as possible.