Screening allows Syrian refugees in Lebanon to express via films

The screening was held to commemorate the closing of the Action for Hope film school, a cinema academy started in 2017 in the Bekaa valley. [Getty]

A group of young Syrian refugee filmmakers showcased their short films at a cinema in Beirut, Lebanon on Friday, to commemorate their graduation from a film school program amid rising anti-Syrian sentiment.

Four short films were screened, covering topics ranging from the filmmakers’ sense of place in Lebanon as Syrians to memories of their mothers and their childhood homes.

The screening was held to commemorate the closing of the Action for Hope film school, a cinema academy started in 2017 in the Bekaa valley – a historically under-resourced area of Lebanon. The film school has managed to teach over 70 students over the last seven years.

Safa Mekdah, a 22-year-old filmmaker who debuted her short film “My latest me” on Friday, said that the process of creating her documentary helped her relate to her family in a new way.

The film was an intimate portraiture of different members of her family, posing questions to them about how they felt about Mekdah’s decision to study film as opposed to a more technical field. Her family wanted her to study medicine and were surprised at her decision to switch to film studies in 2021.

In order to pursue her dreams, Mekdah had to move to Beirut and live far from the family in the Bekaa valley, running up against gender norms.

The unflinching documentary delved into her family’s opinion about her chosen field of study, as well as explored the loss of her father, who disappeared in 2014.

“I don’t usually dare to open these discussions at home, because I’m scared of how my family will react. I decided to make it a game, to laugh in front of the camera,” Mekdah told The New Arab.

Members of her family cried, laughed and expressed affection to one another in front of the camera as Mekdah asked them to open up about usually taboo topics.

While Mekdah said her mother still expected her to eventually move on to a more ‘pragmatic’ major, her mother still travelled to the film screening and clapped alongside the rest of the audience.

According to Sara Zein, the program manager at Action for Hope, there were “great changes” among film school graduates, the vast majority of whom come from vulnerable communities.

“The most important of these differences is their self-confidence, their talent, and their ability to be open and accommodating to others, in addition to refining their culture and artistic backgrounds,” Zein told TNA.

She added that the aim of the film school is to provide an avenue for expression, so that communities going through difficult circumstances can communicate their suffering to others.

The film screening came as anti-Syrian sentiment has been on the rise in Lebanon, with the Lebanese state summarily deporting Syrian refugees back to Syria. Some 1.5 million Syrians live in Lebanon, most of whom came after 2011, fleeing the Syrian regime’s violence against peaceful protesters.

Humanitarians have urged Lebanon to halt the deportations, saying Syria is still not safe for returns and that returnees often face violence at the hands of Syrian security services.

Random mob violence against Syrians has also proliferated since early April, with several instances of groups of young men beating up Syrian passer bys captured on video.

One of the program participants, Amal, acknowledged the difficulties facing the young filmmakers due to their nationalities.

“We were even scared to come from the Bekaa to Beirut today due to the current situation,” she said.

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