Refugee films that hit home

Daily News Egypt
5 Min Read

The huge number of Sri Lankans who have been uprooted due to the crackdown on the Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) by the government has made headlines recently. So has the plight of the Pakistani refugees streaming out of the Swat valley.

In today’s strife-torn world, displacement and migration are becoming an integral part of our global existence – one conflict replaced by another and one set of refugees by another.

Against this backdrop, the Cairo Refugee Film Festival, in commemoration of World Refugee Day, comes as a breath of fresh air.

“In Cairo, celebrations of World Refugee Day on June 20 have always been low-key and muted, said Sara Sadek, community outreach coordinator with the Center for Migration and Refugee Studies at the American University of Cairo and on the organizing committee of the festival.

“No one can deny the reach of films, said Mai Choucri, coordinator with Tadamon -Egyptian Refugee Multicultural Council and one of the festival organizers. “Films can bridge barriers and evoke strong emotions.

The festival, which kicked off Monday, has many firsts to its credit – mainly being the first organized film festival associated with refugees. It is also the first time that such a diverse group of individuals consisting of humanitarians, lawyers, members of civil society and academicians, come together to showcase the lives and resilience of refugees through the medium of film.

“There were teething problems, especially with funding and obtaining the right kind of films to screen at the festival, said Choucri, “since we did not have a track record to fall back upon.

Screening for the first time in Egypt is “SlingShot Hip Hop, the most eagerly awaited film of the festival, which focuses on Palestinian hip hop bands and portrays the use of art as a form of resistance.

“We had to walk the thin line between art and entertainment, fact and fiction, while deciding on the films to grace the festival, said Sadek. “The films had to be an accurate account of the circumstances, at the same time engrossing enough to hold the attention of the viewers.

The festival seeks to bring within its ambit the wide ranging nationalities of refugees and to move away from the stereotypical image associated with them. “Monkey Dance is a narrative about Cambodian refugees in America who try to cling to their traditions and culture. At the same time, their children, born in America, struggle to balance their parents’ expectations and their own dreams.

“Berlari (Running) is a poignant narrative about the Burmese community that has fled from military rule in Burma and is now living in Malaysia. “Iraqis in Egypt is closer to home and chronicles the lives of Iraqi families living in exile in Cairo.

Unlike previous years, where only the academia and practitioners in the field were involved, this year’s celebrations have been brought into the public sphere, in a bid to inculcate empathy towards the refugee communities in Egypt.

“The choice of the venue, Rawabet Theater in downtown Cairo has been with a view to make the festival accessible and to take away its intimidating ‘meant for academia’ label, Sadek said.

Two art-based workshops were conducted over the last couple weeks complementing the festival. These workshops brought together Somali, Sudanese, Iraqi, Palestinian and Egyptian youth to encourage their creativity and give free rein to their imagination.

According to Choucri, “the festival provides a platform to show how youth think and a chance to display their work before a larger audience.

At the photography workshop, participants were encouraged to photograph snippets from their daily lives they found inspiring. These photographs will be displayed at the venue of the festival. The outcome of the filmmaking workshop – two-minute portraits of the fellow participants – will also be screened on Friday, June 19.

For all those who believe in “cinema for a cause and even for those who don’t, there are plenty of reasons to head to the Cairo Refugee Film Festival.

The five-day festival will culminate on June 20 with a performance by Kanaan from the Palestinian Rappers’ trio as well as that of a band playing African and reggae music.

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