Freedom Speaks With Light From a Screen, Jamming, 16/09/2016

Tonight, I’ll be busy with a fundraising event I’m organizing with the Syria Film Festival. For lack of a better name, it’s the SYFF Cultural Party, and it’s actually going to be a pretty fun night. 

When we were planning the fundraiser, we had our eye on a comprehensive menu of entertainment. We’ve arranged an art auction, and our Festival Director AtoZ’s band is playing a set of traditional and contemporary Syrian music. 

But the centrepiece of the Cultural Party is the screening of a film that one of our partners produced, My Dream My Right. Faisal Attrache is a documentary director who's made several shorts following the lives of people at the Za’atari Refugee Camp just over Syria’s border with Jordan.

Over 80,000 people live in Za’atari, making it Jordan’s fourth-largest city. It’s a city made of United Nations tents in the middle of the bloody desert. It’s existed for four years. And it’s a pretty typical refugee camp in that it’s an enormous limbo for its residents, trapped by the international laws of citizenship that keep them from seeking a better life elsewhere.

The Europeans certainly don’t want any more Syrian people coming to their country, so everyone is just sort of stuck there. That’s what refugee camps are – places where people are stuck. 80,000 people.

Some of those people are youth who’ve taken part in a set of filmmaking workshops that Attrache – and his organization, Voices of the Children – have set up. My Dream My Right is a collection of several short films that these young people made themselves. Each is only a few minutes long, and expresses an aesthetic style unique to each of these young directors.

One of the founding activists and officials in the UNHCR, Thomas Jamieson, had a saying that I discovered a while ago. “If you can close a camp, do it.” A refugee camp is a living purgatory, stuck in a place where your citizenship and your humanity isn’t even fully recognized. 

It reminds me of one core truth behind my own political ideas – We can’t rely on our states to protect us and bestow us rights. We deserve full rights and legal recognition as people, regardless of citizenship and the laws of whatever government issued us our papers. You're always in some minimal danger of a government that cares nothing for you leaving you out to dry.

Well, Za’atari doesn’t seem to be going anywhere anytime soon. But these young people are sick of the limbo of life in a refugee camp.

The Cultural Party will also now be the first stage in fulfilling a promise I made to the documentary’s producers at the Voices of the Children non-profit. Figuring out how to get these people out of the god damn refugee camp. 

Because if you've been stuck in a refugee camp in the middle of the Jordanian desert overlooking the Syrian border for four years,* you’ll want to get the hell out. It’s not a nice place to be for a month, let alone for four years.

* Four fucking years. I mean, seriously.

Four fucking years. I’d have had it. I’m not surprised that these guys have too. So I plan on introducing (virtually) some of SYFF’s donors and immigration activist partners to the young artists behind My Dream My Right

If they can produce such remarkable cinematic beauty in the generally shitty conditions of Za’atari, they’ll be able to weather pretty much anything in the name of art. Especially if they can get the resources of a country and society like Canada working for them.

Some of the heirs to Werner Herzog’s pragmatic existential cinematic process could be in Za’atari right now. We owe it to the world, humanity, God, to get them to make as many films as physically possible.

God would owe them. God should owe them.

Once again, here’s the Facebook event for the Cultural Party tonight. Never stop pushing and nudging the world toward freedom. Even if it’s just a $20 cover charge.

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