The Another Kind of Girl Collective is a series of workshops created for Syrian girls living in Jordanian refugee camps to learn about both the artistic and technical sides of photography and videography to help them tell their own stories. The workshops were developed in 2014 by documentary filmmaker and educator Laura Doggett who was working in Jordan with the International Rescue Committee and Save the Children. She was later joined by documentary animator and educator Tasneem Toghoj as her co-facilitator and translator and together they worked with about twenty five teenage girls to develop their media and storytelling skills. The girls have quickly proven themselves to be dedicated students and talented artists and their work is now being recognized internationally. Their short films have been showcased at a number of major film festivals including Cannes, Sundance, SXSW and TIFF. We were granted the wonderful opportunity to speak to a few of the girls who participated in these workshops and ask them a few questions about their experiences. The interview was aided by Tasneem who graciously acted as our translator and also helped us interview the girls.
Khaldiya is 19 years old and originally hails from Dara’a Syria. She fled from the war 4 years ago and now resides in the Za’atari Refugee Camp in Jordan. The film she created is called Another Kind of Girl. In her film, Khaldiya looks at her new life in the refugee camp and how it has opened up new opportunities for her. When we spoke, she told us a little about her experiences and her big plans for the future.
Arab Film Festival: What is it like living in Jordan?
Khaldiya: I’m very comfortable and very happy. A lot of people might think we’re unhappy and that we don’t like it, but I actually really enjoy being here.
AFF: Can you tell me a little about the workshops you did with Laura and Tasneem? What kind of projects did you work on?
K: The workshop was just amazing! Every part of it was all really great! I felt like me, Laura and all the other girls were just like a family. We would sit down and talk and eat and we would have fun. We learned how to take photographs and videos and we learned all these new techniques that we hadn’t known before. I had the greatest time. To me, it felt like it was a beginning of a really long road, hopefully, to my dreams of becoming a filmmaker.
AFF: That’s great! So, you want to definitely be a filmmaker one day?
K: I would love to become a filmmaker and direct films. That’s what I want to do.
AFF: Your film has already been shown at some very big film festivals, I even watched it on the New York Times website! How does that feel to know that so many people are seeing your work?
K: I feel really great! It’s a nice feeling to know that there are all these people who are watching my film and appreciating it because I feel like this is a gateway for me to achieve my dream and to let people know that this what I want to do with my life.
Tasneem: How did it feel to make this film? Did you imagine that this was going to happen to you through the workshop?
K: It’s not something that I thought that could happen but I did know that when I was taking the shots in the workshop, I knew that even before showing them to Laura that she would like them. But I had no idea of how big this was going to become or that this was something that was even possible for me.
AFF: What advice do you have to give to other young people, who might also be in difficult situations, and want to make films or art?
K: My first piece of advice is for the person to have perseverance. They have to want to do this. Otherwise, they won’t be able to achieve anything. Nobody else can want it for them, they have to want it for themselves. They have to have the need and the perseverance in themselves. The second thing is that they have to be really strong and really confident in their work and in themselves. A lot of people might come in and give them a hard time about what they’re doing and about the things they are trying to portray to other people, so they need to have confidence in their own opinions and not let anyone else take that away from them. That’s the only way that they’ll be able to succeed in what they want to do.
You can watch Khaldiya’s film below, hosted by the New York Times.
Walaa is 17 years old and is also from Dara’a, Syria. She fled the war 4 years ago and now lives in Irbid, Jordan. She was a talented writer long before she joined the workshops but has since found a new love in filmmaking. Her short film, The Girl, Whose Shadow Reflects the Moon, is a beautiful and touching piece that recounts her journey from Syria to Jordan and how filmmaking has given her new hope and a new way to tell her story and connect to other girls. When we interviewed her, she spoke mainly about the importance of self-expression and storytelling for both herself and other young people.
Arab Film Festival: What is it like living in Jordan?
Walaa: Living in Jordan is nice and I am happy, but also I’m not happy. I’m happy because I feel safe but I hate that I’m in a foreign country.
AFF: Can you tell me a little about the workshops you participated in?
W: I really liked the workshop. It was really nice for me because it felt like people started to support me and that I had things inside me and the workshop allowed me to let those things out. And the idea of the workshop itself, having girls work with media, was really nice.
AFF: Why do you think it’s important for people to be able to express themselves and tell stories and share them with people?
W: The reason why it’s important for people to express themselves is because it’s important to bring things from inside to outside. It’s important to bring these things outside because girls go through things in their lives, even more than what I’ve been through. Arab society often makes girls feel like they have to be ashamed of themselves, so many girls are afraid of speaking up. Workshops like these give these girls a chance to tell people what they’ve been through. For me, the workshops gave me courage and helped me not be afraid to tell my story to people. That’s why it’s important to have these workshops.
AFF: How does it feel to know that your film and your friends’ films are being shown at festivals all around the world?
W: Knowing this makes me feel successful. I feel that I’ve achieved something in my life. I’m really happy that I was able to reach out to society and share what I had in myself and have them understand. It’s really hard to describe how I’m feeling. To me, it feels like the sky’s my limit right now and I’m not going to stop. I’m going to do new stories, new films and I’m going to share them with you!
AFF: So, do you want to be a filmmaker? Is that your career plan?
W: For sure! This is my aim right now. I’m actually studying and reading books about it because it’s what I want to do. All of my stories are going to be from reality, none of them from my imagination.
Tasneem: Is it going to be from your reality or the reality of the people around you?
W: From both of them, hopefully.
AFF: Do you have advice for other young people who want to make films?
W: The advice that I would give is that when they want to make a film, that they should consider making it about their reality and not about something they’ve imagined. They should take something that’s inside them, something that they want to share with society, something with a message. Break the world. It doesn’t matter, just break it all over the place. Especially for girls, they might have cultural barriers that make them afraid of saying certain things but they shouldn’t be afraid to say them. I find the best mediums to use are through writing or filming. For me personally, I really think that these are the best ways to bring out a message to the world. When my family first saw my film, they gave me a really really hard time. But I was very strong during those hard times and I didn’t let them put me down and girls should never let anybody put them down. They should make their own happiness and always be strong, even if someone tries to stop them from saying things that they know is right.
You can watch Walaa’s film below. Her film was featured online on Public Radio International’s The World.
Our final interview was with Marah. She is 17 years old and originally from Dara’a, Syria. She has been living at the Za’atari Camp in Jordan for the last 4 years. Her film Children captures the resilience and creativity of the Syrian children living in the camp and the difference in their lives since leaving their home. Marah spoke with us about her reason for filming and photographing children and about how the workshops helped her gain confidence and realize her path in life. She also shared with us that the skills she learned in the workshop recently helped her land a job as a photographer at the local hospital!
Arab Film Festival: What is life like at the Za’atari Camp?
Marah: My life was really normal until I got married and now I have everything that I want!
AFF: What did you think about the workshops? What did you learn from them?
M: I learned how to use the camera to take photos from different angles. I learned which angles to take and which angles work best for me. I learned when to use the zoom, and when not to use the zoom. I also learned how to work in a group and how to be cooperative and work in a team. We took a lot of different workshops at the camp, but this workshop that I did with Laura was different. The best thing about it was when we showed her our pictures, she never said that it was wrong or that the pictures didn’t look nice. She always told us, “So you got this, why don’t you try next time to take it at this or that angle?” I really liked that because we were able to learn a lot of things. It was not like the other workshops where they would tell us, “This was wrong, you’re doing the wrong thing”. Laura also gave me confidence in myself and confidence in my work. She would always say that my work was great. So when I achieved first place in one of the festivals, that made me feel like I could do better and I could do more!
AFF: Can you tell us a little bit about your film? Especially since yours is not currently available online.
M: Since I was younger, it’s been pointed out to me that everything I photograph and film is always about kids. The reason why I like to film these children is to show the differences between when they were in Syria and how they are over here, because there are a lot differences between them, both positive and negative. Over here in the camp, they don’t have the same pressure on them as they did in Syria, with the fear of it [the war]. They’re no longer feeling scared and they feel more secure so it’s quite different for them. I also show the way many of the kids here have to leave school to work because the situation they’re living in doesn’t always allow them to really be children.
Tasneem: So why did you film this stuff? What do you want the world to get from it?
M: I just want people to know that all of these children have dreams and hopes that they would like to achieve and some of them will be able to achieve them but some others will not. I also love children, I’ve always loved children, and I hope that one day I will have children of my own! I also often feel like I am a child myself, on the inside, so that is also part of the reason that I like to film children.
AFF: How do you feel about all the people, around the world, who are seeing your film?
M: Originally, I didn’t have any confidence in myself, but when I finally made the film and it received all this recognition, I felt like I was finally able to do something. I never really thought that I would be something in the future and I definitely didn’t think I had a future in this field at all. Now I feel like I do have the chance to do it, to become a filmmaker. Laura and Tasneem have helped to instill this confidence in me.
AFF: What advice do you have for other young people who want to make films or take photos?
M: The best advice I can give anybody is that they have to be insistent. They have to have the need and the desire to do this, otherwise they won’t be able to get anywhere. If you have a dream, whether it’s photography or something else, you just have to go for it. Don’t be afraid, you can achieve it! When I made the film and then I heard it won first place, I made sure to keep on filming. I filmed on my phone and I sent them to Laura through WhatsApp. Even when the app stopped working in the camp, every time I went to work I would still find ways to send my shots to her as soon as I could. I mostly film my niece Tasneem because she’s always around me. Oh and I have one more piece of advice. You can’t care about what others think about what you’re doing. When we were in the workshops we would go and shoot over the caravans, we didn’t care. People in the camp would look at us like, “What are they doing? It’s wrong,” but we didn’t think about them. You should be like “Who cares about them? I’m going to do whatever I want to do.” Go out and film everything that you can film, without any shame and without any fear of the people around you and what they’re going to say.
Marah’s film is not currently available online. All the girls’ films will be available online later this year after their festival premieres. For upcoming screenings of the films please visit anotherkindofgirl.com/screenings.