Power of the moving image

23rd June 2006 at 01:00
Digital video can't solve conflicts, but it is a wonderful way to start a conversation with the other side, writes Vivi Lachs

In Israel, Palestine, Cyprus and London, groups of young novice film-makers sit intensely watching each others' short films about how they perceive barriers between them.

Pertinent, poignant and at times urgent, they question each other on issues that touch the core of their senses of identity. Barriers are identified, discussed and argued about. In Israel and Palestine, these are economic differences, the wall built by Israel to isolate the West Bank, fear and a sense of insecurity. Those from Cyprus describe family pressure to conform, armies and language. Youngsters from London discuss street violence, the media and language. One digital video project, one process, but three very different sets of ideas and outcomes.

From IsraelPalestine, there are three groups. The Israeli Jewish film explores positive and negative aspects of the separation wall. The makers assumed the Palestinians would make a film about bombings, and wanted to explore reasons.

Their film begins in a classroom, a picture of the wall on the blackboard and a teacher asking questions. Through the answers they describe concepts of fear and security, and symbolically show two plants in flower pots, one surrounded by a fence, but both plants wilting and dying. The project worker, Shimrit, said: "They had in mind that the last shot is the most important, as it leaves the biggest impression, and decided to end with an image of the teacher erasing the wall from the blackboard."

The Palestinian Israeli group, all using digital video cameras for the first time, went to local towns - Tel Aviv, Um al Fahim and Jaffa - filming images showing economic differences, using Israeli and Palestinian flags as markers. They filmed nice homes in Tel Aviv and poor shacks in Um al Fahim; a Muslim cemetery totally abandoned and a neat Jewish one next to it; a well resourced playground and kids playing football on the street.

Their project worker, Wael, said: "It was a new experience for the girls from Um al Fahim to hang around their town and try to film it from views they have never thought about before."

The Palestinian West Bank group's film tells a love story between two Palestinians - a boy from the West Bank and a girl living in Israel - who can no longer meet because of the wall. Eman, their project worker, explained: "They thought the Jewish group would make a film about bombings, so wanted to challenge by telling people that they are humans, who live and love as ordinary people."

This was the first time these young people had been given access to video cameras and editing suites. Eman is enthusiastic about the technology as a medium for ideas. "They learned a new way to express their feelings," she recalled. "In a movie they can gather all their ideas into a whole and work as a team to express their feelings."

After making the films, the groups came together to discuss them. Due to checkpoint closures, no one from the West Bank could enter Israel without special permission. So, using webcams, the groups met virtually. They sat to watch the films and listen to each other, asking questions through interpreters, explaining their films and points of view. The Jewish group was surprised that the Palestinian Israelis used the Palestinian flag, showing they felt more Palestinian than Israeli.

The Palestinians from the West Bank saw the Palestinian Israeli group as fighting the same struggle. Wael explained how the Palestinian Israelis "had difficulty in deciding how to describe their barriers due to their identity conflict, feeling in-between". Although delighted to have been able to meet using webcams, Eman was disappointed they took up so much discussion time. "I wish that we had met in the proper way," she sighed.

Despite there being a border in between the Greek and Turkish regions of Cyprus, you now only need personal ID to cross. Young people in the Turkish and Greek groups had been on both sides. One girl from the Turkish north went on a family trip south to walk in the Troodos mountains. One Greek Cypriot boy had walked around the old town of Nicosia just to look at it.

Evgenia, the project worker on the Greek side, explains: "Before this project, they could go over there, but they didn't know anyone. Now they have a link with other young people and can get to know them."

The Greek-Cypriot film uses vignettes showing images from history, and churches, mosques and soldiers. The makers dress up as Greek and Turkish soldiers, explaining both armies had committed atrocities. Their final scene is a revolution where they kick down a wall of boxes and wave the peace flag, while people on the streets join in.

Both groups explore the language barrier. In the film from the northern, Turkish side of the island, people shout at each other in frustration at not understanding, and some succumb to violence. Yunus, 18, explained: "It feels claustrophobic in North Cyprus. I just want to connect with other young people in other places." Both groups look at family pressure, which they see as ruled by "old-fashioned" views. Evgenia explains that, when she asked the group about the first barrier they met on the other side, Nikolas, 16, answered: "My father." "They recognise they have different views to the older people, and these were the first steps to considering what they can do to establish communication and for rapprochement to proceed," she said.

The young Cypriots were open and excited to meet each other, and immediately set up a new group to provide a way to keep them working together.

* The London filmakers' experience Give Peace a Chance appeared in TES Online on May 5, page 25.

* Check out our 2Simple competition for the International Day of Peace on page 20 www.2simple.com


Making the movie gave an opportunity to:

* Consider and report on events, and look at the issues that lay behind them

* Carefully construct a point of view and present it imaginatively

* Work collaboratively

* Mahmut, the Turkish Cypriot project worker, says: "Film works better than other communication forms because this generation is the TV generation."

Viewing the movie allowed the students to:

* See an encapsulated idea before meeting its authors

* Appreciate the movie-making skills they had learned

* Jason, the African-Caribbean worker in London, says: "Making the movie gave them the opportunity to analyse one anothers' views - to sit down, mediate and learn from other people, as well as themselves."

The discussion:

* Let communication happen that otherwise could not, using a webcam

* Filming the discussions kept a sense of decorum - and helped both sides listen to each other FOR MORE INFORMATION

Vivi Lachs is curriculum director at Hackney CLC's: Highwire and Portico - vivi@highwire.org.uk

Talking about Barriers is co-ordinated by Highwire City Learning Centre in Hackney, London, and supported by Windows Channels for Communications, (Israel), 2simple Software, The Learning Trust, London Metropolitan University, Windows for Peace UK, FATAL (For the Advancement of Turkish-speakers Arts and Literature) and the Esmee Fairbain Foundation.

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