Breaking barriers

Film-making projects can help bring isolated ethnic groups together, writes Vivi Lachs

"They will get arrested if they film the border crossing."

"We can film from our side, and the soldiers as well," "When people want to use cheaper mobile networks on their phones, they come and stand up there, by the wire fence, looking down over the UN zone - but they can't film even with their phones, and the students will want to film the border."

This discussion, taking place in Cyprus, between a Greek Cypriot and a Turkish Cypriot, was part of a two-day course where teachers and youth workers were trained in digital video editing, as part of an international project called Talking About Barriers.

The project, developed by Highwire, Hackney's City Learning Centre, will involve teams of 16-year-old novice film-makers making documentaries about barriers to communication.

Teams from ethnic groups in Israel, Palestine, Cyprus and the UK will make wordless movies with soundtracks giving impressions of discussions about the physical, mental and cultural barriers between them. They will then meet in their regions to discuss these films, adding edited clips from the discussions into their movies. Next, films from each region will be sent to the other countries, where students will discuss them through email and webcams.

Whatever the differences between these groups, they will have something in common - they will all be movie-makers. They will all have planned, filmed, edited, thought about images without words and added soundtracks, learned skills, and worked as a team. When they talk, they will be able to discuss techniques as well as the content of the films.

The project, using Canon digital video cameras, Apple Macs and iMovie, allows the young people to edit their films and soundtracks with ease. The simplicity of the technology means it doesn't get in the way of discussing and communicating the content.

In fact, the technology itself can offer new insights. Evgenia, a Greek Cypriot explained: "It's funny to play with the camera - it seemed to me to be complicated but it isn't. You just go out into the world and find thousands of things to film that didn't make special sense before - but you just go out of the door and find things - full of significance."

Making films can be a holistic procedure that gives a feeling of completion as well as a sense of control. In the UK, groups of Turkish speakers and African Caribbean young people in Hackney will work at Highwire, part of The Learning Trust. There is an urgent need to find ways for groups like this to explore their difficulties, and to find ways for them to talk freely to each other. And, just as the camera creates an additional perspective, hearing about conflict from other countries can put your local difficulties into stark relief.


Talking About Barriers is supported by 2Simple software, The Learning Trust, London Metropolitan University, Windows Channels for Communications (Isreal) and Windows for Peace UK. The project is co-ordinated by Highwire CLC.

Full coverage of this project will appear in TES Online later this year.

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