Refugee Children Watching Danish Films

INITIATIVE. Cinema on the Road, a project promoting children’s film culture in Lebanon, has kicked off with screenings for Syrian and Palestinian refugee children. Films can make vulnerable kids open up, says Khadije Nasser, a project worker at the Danish embassy in Beirut.

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CINEMA ON THE ROAD. Children attending a screening of Danish films in Lebanon.

Morten the hedgehog is jealous of his new little brother, in "Having a Brother," and Alfred in "Helium" ponders life after death – feelings children all over the world can identify with.

My best experience was a girl who said she had never been to the movies before and had never seen children in a movie.

Now Syrian and Palestinian children in Lebanese refugee camps are given an opportunity to see and talk about children's films through the initiative Cinema on the Road, which is backed by the Danish Embassy in Beirut, the Lebanese film institution Metropolis Art Cinema, and the Danish Film Institute.

Some of the children in the camps have never seen a film with a child protagonist before. Others have never been to the cinema. At the screenings, everyone was happy, open and inquisitive. "I have never seen so many kids sit so still and focused at one time," says Khadije Nasser, project worker at the Danish Embassy in Beirut.

A Sheet for a Screen

Cinema on the Road recently concluded its first phase in Lebanon, training facilitators from local organisations and screening films in refugee camps, both official Palestinian camps and informal Syrian tent camps (the local government has set up no official Syrian refugee camps). Some of the established camps had usable rooms, but most of the screenings took place with a projector and a screen in a tent with 25-40 children sitting on the floor or on plastic chairs.

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"We've been trying to keep it as simple as possible and adapt to the conditions. We are bringing something we think is valuable to people who have very little, and watching it work has been amazing," Nasser says.

The programming has included Anders Walter's Oscar-winning short "Helium," Pil Maria Gunnarsson's "The Mouse" and Esben Toft Jacobsen's "Having a Brother" – films about friendship, jealousy and illness that have made the children open up and talk about their own lives, Nasser says.

"The children could really identify with these films about friendship, jealousy and about coming to a new place and making new friends. It doesn't have to be about the refugee situation. It can also be a way to allow them to be themselves and focus on something else besides being a refugee. A lot of kids have opened up and asked questions or shared their stories," she says.

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"They said things like 'I know someone who passed away. Is he in Helium now?' and 'I have a brother. I think he gets too much attention. What should I do?' The kids have seen themselves in the films in a lot of ways. It's been amazing, also because the next step in the project might be to have them tell their own stories.

"My best experience was a girl who said she had never been to the movies before and had never seen children in a movie," Nasser says. "But they really don't have to say all that much – just watching them run into the cinema, be so enthusiastic and ask if they can please get to see more films."

Giving Children a Voice

There is no children's film culture in Lebanon the way we know it in Denmark, Nasser says. Nor are creative elements commonly included in Lebanese classrooms, where the teaching is more traditional. The people behind Cinema on the Road hope to change that in the next phase of the project, which will take place in Lebanese public schools.

"We hope to spread the message that films can be a tool in the classroom. Especially when working with vulnerable children, certain things are easier to talk about when they are presented to the children visually. The children get a chance to reflect, ask questions, be more active and creative in the classroom and bring their own stories to the table. In terms of education and democracy, it's important that children get a voice and learn that they have something to say."

Cinema on the Road is financially supported by the Danish Agency for Culture and the Danish Institute in Damascus.

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Cinema on the Road

More than a million Syrian refugees are living in Lebanon today, while many refugees are also arriving from Palestine.

Twenty screenings were held in seven refugee camps and informal tent camps across Lebanon. In connection with the screenings, children and teens discussed and analysed the films' themes and reflected on their form and content.

The children are divided into the age groups of 5-8, 8-12 and 12+ years.

Around 25-40 children attend each screening.

The films are subtitled, dubbed or interpreted live in Arabic.

These films are shown:

The Mouse by Pil Maria Gunnarsson
Helium by Anders Walter
The Flame and the Cotton Ball by Niels Bisbo
Having a Brother by Esben Toft Jacobsen
Ernst shorts by Alice de Champfleury
We Shall Overcome by Niels Arden Oplev
... and
The Kid by Charles Chaplin

The project is a partnership between the Danish Embassy in Beirut, Metropolis Art Cinema and the Danish Film Institute.

The DFI has experience with other international film projects in countries including Palestine, Syria, Brazil, Tanzania and Uganda.

Contact

Charlotte Giese
Special Advisor, Children & Youth
Tel. +45 2332 9030
charlotg@dfi.dk

Det Danske Filminstitut

Danish Film Institute /
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