Two awareness-raising short films

I have found this project by a company called Creative Connection in conjunction with an organisation called The Worldwide Tribe.

They have made two short films with two refugees, each working with the animators to tell their stories.

Changing the narrative is the aim – a problem that is exercising everyone who is in any way involved with the refugee crisis.  I have been to various summits and meetings as a founder of Herts Welcomes Syrian Families (websiteFacebook page) and this is always a topic that preoccupies us: how to help people see it from the refugees’ point of viewwhen the loudest voices in the media are tending to vilify them with insinuations, leaving some people with the impression that the majority of people fleeing war are either opportunists or malignant enemies.

I thought these films were very good indeed.  The animation is lively; it draws and holds the eye.  The stories are concisely told, imparting a lot of information in a few words – and difficult to hear, too.

Also – the most unsettling part – there is heavy use of sound, to put the viewer inside the story being told.  I understand that this is no accident now, that sound by its very nature has a quality that can slip directly under our cognitive radar and operate directly on the dreaming part of our brains.

Some devices I noted in Zeinah

The first of these two little films, for example, uses the same trick of introducing the ringing in the ears (see 0:29 in Zeinah) that Robynn Stilwell examines in her analysis of Closet Land (Stilwell 2005).   This high pitched ringing sound has to be internal, inside Zeinah, triggered by the loud bomb and violent fall.  So immediately we know that it is subjective and that we are in Zeinah’s point of audition, which brings us closer into her world.

Then when the terrible incident of her friend being shot by a sniper as they do something as ordinary as buy food for her family happens, we are already connected empathically to Zeinah, already grateful to her friend for the support she is lending and I certainly felt a pang of shock and sadness when it was described and depicted.

Another device that I thought was effective was the choice to omit  something: the trudging footsteps sound.  At the beginning, we see Zeinah on the road of exile, in the now picture of familiar line of people walking away from Syria.  But we don’t hear the footsteps then – we hear a foreshadowing of her description of what she escaped from.  Then when we see her in an ordinary domestic place, somewhere we ourselves may be, doing the same activities she describes, the incongruity is already highlighted for us: we are already thinking of danger.

The final use of sound I liked was the noises of the refugee camp lingering in our ears at the end – a story without an ending – yet…  As we lose the picture, there is an internalising, a thoughtful quality that emerges, inviting us to dwell on the distress expressed in the last piece of the monologue.  It seems to me that the message we are asked to consider by this device is ‘Why do we assume that a refugee would rather not be at home?  Why do we think that someone would rather be in a foreign land, estranged from everything familiar and comfortable, everything entwined with their own history and experience, without language skills or access to work, education or services?’

Here is the other film, Yaman:

STILLWELL, R.J., 2005. Sound and Empathy: Subjectivity, Gender and the Cinematic Soundscape, in: Screen Methods Comparative Readings. Furby, J. and Randell, K. (eds.) Wallflower Press: London, pp. 48–58.


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