When the juries gathered and the Ajyal Youth Film Festival officially opened, last year’s videos were shown as examples of what 450 jury members between the ages of 8 and 21 from all over the world would watch, discuss and even create in some workshops. 95% of the jury live in Qatar year-round. 75% to 90% of the Qatari population is under 25. Members of the Giffoni affiliated festivals sent 16 older jury members from all over the world to partake as well. The films and workshops are designed to inspire and motivate using content and social media for self-expression.
The student jurors come after their school classes end and have lunch, in itself a very important component of this Festival. Master chef Frank Bordoni, an award-winning chef cooks organically and with awareness of allergies, vegetarian diets and discusses healthy eating.
After lunch the juries adjourn to screening rooms arranged in three groups by age: Mohaq (New Moon) for 8 to 12 year olds, Hilal (Crescent Moon) for 13 to 17 and Bader (Full Moon) for 18 to 21 year olds. They first watch features and then shorts. 45 minutes are given for questions and answers which is one of the most interesting and enlightening events for filmmakers and cineastes because the questions asked are unique to the children’s inquiring minds. The jurors sit through the credits as a sign of respect for the hard work done making the film. Questions about the story and the techniques are followed by voting in private using techniques learned about decomposing and evaluating technical and content areas of the films which are arranged by #tags.
Each juror receives a passport which is valid for a year. The passport gives tips on criticism and the hashtags used in describing films. When they write down the films they have seen with the filmmaker’s name and some evaluation of the film, they get rewarded with stickers.
At the end of the Festival one can see how the jurors have absorbed information; their hashtags have become more sophisticated. They use words such as “color palette” and “cinematography”; they embrace digital technology as they are given tools like Instagram and Snapchat and missions such as “give a soul to food”.
Reem Saleh, Deputy Director Ajyal Youth Film Festival
Reem herself studied film at the Lebanese American University in Beirut and minored in psychology. She worked with children’s theater and then with children with disabilities. She started her own career as a theater actress and taught as an extra curricular activity. She was a tv producer and executive director for TV Doc, an MTV-like program in Lebanon. For five years she was the executive director of a children’s channel.
She started with Ajyal Youth Film Festival three years ago as it was launching. The idea of the Festival is not to train children to become filmmakers but to respect other cultures, to understand the concept of world culture, to create relationships and to recognize creativity as an integral part of life, not to be judgmental and to see how lucky they are. If one child’s outlook on life is changed for the better, then Ajyal will have accomplished its goal.
There are already several examples of such changes. After watching a doc “On the Way to School”, a mother said that her son identified so strongly because he had leukemia and was not able to attend school everyday himself.
One 17 year old girl, after watching a film about bullying went on to learn filmmaking and made a film about car accidents (there are many in Qatar) and the effect of death on the survivors.
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 Chicago, Children’s Film Festival Seatle, 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.