Friday, August 6, 2010

Re-imagining Gaza: Evaluation and Community Screenings

With the end of our youth media program in Jabaliya refugee camp last week, we conducted evaluations and screenings of the films with the families and local community, along with a photography exhibition and large public screening hosted at the Mat’haf (Gaza Museum) from August 1 - 13, 2010.

The workshop evaluations were conducted in focus groups through follow-up questionnaires and group discussions, as well as video-based interviews conducted by youth among themselves. See a brief excerpt of evaluation interviews edited by youth in the 4-min video below.

Both the community and public exhibition and screenings were a huge success with nearly 250-300 people in the audience, Q&A with the young filmmakers, a diploma ceremony that the youth and their families looked forward to, and interviews with youth conducted by Al Jazeera’s Arabic language TV correspondent. The images below give a sense of excitement about these events.

The youth continue to work on independent media projects and short films, with the support of their trainers through an on-going follow-up program. It’s been an exhilarating summer for everyone involved and we’re proud to have an extraordinary team of young filmmakers pushing the boundaries of participatory media in Gaza.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Screening in Al Aroub Camp

(c) Anne Paq/Voices beyond walls, 29 July 2010, Al Aroub

We had a fantastic screening of the final films, together with one short from Gaza.
Around 200 persons attended!

Friday, July 30, 2010

Re-imagining Gaza: Youth Photo Exhibit & Films Premiere :: Aug 1st

The “Re-imagining Project” is a program of digital video, photography and storytelling workshops that supports Palestinian children and youth in expressing their cultural identity, personal narratives, and creative visions through participatory digital media.

The photo exhibit and screening events showcase work emerging from two 3-week digital media and storytelling workshops conducted from July 4 – 25, 2010 with 10-15 year old children, in collaboration with the Women’s Program Center in Jabaliya refugee camp, Gaza and the Al Aroub Play and Animation Center in Al Aroub refugee camp, West Bank.

West Bank Event: Al Aroub Camp, Hebron, July 29, 2010

Gaza Event: Al Mat’haf, Sodaniya, Beach Road, Gaza
Photo Exhibit: August 1st – 13th, 2010

Exhibit Opening Reception and Film Screenings:
Sunday 5:30pm – 8:30pm, August 1, 2010

The program has been conducted by Voices Beyond Walls with community centers in refugee camps in the West Bank since 2006. In June-July 2010, the project was launched in Gaza in collaboration with Les Enfants, Le Jeu et l’Education (EJE) and participating community centers.

The program is led by an international and local team of filmmakers, artists, photographers, educators, and youth community animators. The project is supported in part by Les Enfants, Le Jeu et l’Education (EJE), Sharek Youth Forum, Tamer Institute, Canaan Institute for New Pedagogy, the French Cultural Center in Gaza, UNRWA, the MIT Center for Future Civic Media, and the Genevieve McMillan-Reba Stewart Foundation.

The photo exhibition is hosted at Al Mat’haf (the Museum), a one-of-a-kind recreation and cultural center that showcases Gaza’s rich historical past and seamlessly blends it into the context of contemporary life in Gaza. At a time when many in Gaza have forgotten its rich cultural heritage, Al-Mathaf aims to preserve the region’s historical treasures, provide a venue for modern cultural dialogue, and support the new generation in creating a brighter future.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Filming and Editing with youth in Jabaliya refugee camp, Gaza – Week 3

The final week of our workshop in Jabaliya refugee camp in Gaza focused on getting youth narratives filmed on-location along with editing the video shorts. In the upcoming days we plan to finalize all films and screen them in the local community, along with post-workshop evaluations. The following summarizes our experiences in the final week:

Day 11: A day of ups and downs shooting video in the camp…

A day with many ups and downs - we had left video cameras with all groups and trainers to continue filming over the weekend. All but one group reported in their morning check-in that they were nearly done with their primary shooting. Many had worked hard on the weekend in new locations and reworked narratives.

However, during our video footage review it became clear nearly all had critical challenges, which nearly left their films either unusable or fairly flat. These included very poor audio and lighting for many crucial scenes; interestingly at least 2 groups shot scenes in the center (when they were unable to get permission to shoot elsewhere) but somehow failed to notice the roaring diesel generator running in the background, muting all but the loudest characters in the scenes. Others shot indoors in very poor lightning or composition and outdoor shots at a distance had little or no expression seen in the characters. Natural and dramatic acting was also turning out to be a challenge for many groups in difficult locations with little preparation, coaching or rehearsal.

There seems to be a dilemma to get the right balance between indoor/outdoor shooting to handle light and the inevitable noise in the camp. So we suggested good "location scouting" was most crucial for all groups, along with getting compelling characters in desirable roles. In some cases, simply casting other individuals in critical roles that are more authentic, was the only solution to make the films seem compelling. Finally, we urged some trainers to work closer with the other teams to provide more guidance and support.

One could feel the exasperation of the teams as they watched their footage and we noticed that many scenes re-shot had only gotten worse. This was certainly not an outcome we all wished at this stage of the workshop with all the training and critical reviews we had done. So we simply went around and got everyone to give constructive suggestions to each group as they presented their work; clearly seeing it on large format screen really helps each time. At least two groups decided to completely re-write their stories or choose a new concept, as they saw their current work fall flat. We decided to work intensively with the two groups most in need to get them back on track. 

The only group that finished shooting all footage was the one doing the silent abstract film which they shot in a new location around destroyed buildings by the sea - the effect was quite moving and everyone clapped at the end. I suggested they combine their footage from the previous location to retain the urgency and dramatic character they originally achieved. Overall, this group appears to have some powerful footage to go into editing.

With the inspiration from the last group's footage, we got all other groups to meet separately with us to consider how to improve their work. Roger and Maha worked closely with a group where the children quickly developed refreshing new story, which they are excited to shoot tomorrow.
I had one group, which was a bit demoralized due to internal dynamics and trainer issues, to revert back to a piece they originally developed in the first week, focusing on human rights issues and persons injured in Jabaliya camp during the war. They were psyched to get back on-location and begin shooting. So we developed a new angle where we would have one team interview and shoot the emerging story, while another "camera crew" would film them doing so, thus creating a film inside a film. We had the "camera crew" of a 11-year old boy (Mohammed) and girl from another group use Roger's professional Panasonic video camera for the secondary shoot; they both took to it readily panning gracefully between the interview and the team filming it.

The pairing worked really well as we re-interviewed the Hammad family who suffered during the war; they welcomed us back in their home as both teams filmed them in a somewhat odd fashion (one saying "action" after the other). They understood the concept and that it was for training purposes as well. The camera team also filmed the group making decisions about their shots and preparing for interviews while walking along, so the film may turn out to be fairly compelling once it’s completed. The team plans to meet Mezan, the human rights center in the camp and film two other cases as part of their documentary narrative.

This was a great high-point for the frustrating day as the group felt a sense of satisfaction at seeing a concept come together quickly and having a workable plan of action to produce something effective in a short time. Let’s see how the rest goes with all other groups as they wrap up shooting tomorrow, and get into editing...

Day 12: Wrapping up shooting and brief editing tutorial 

The day started with all the groups eagerly waiting in the courtyard of the center holding tripods and cameras ready to go for their final shoot. I came in with a large tray of Bakhalava to celebrate the arrival of my little sister's baby boy this morning. Just enough sugar to get everyone recharged for their filming on-location all morning.

Each team went out to their final locations; I took our group to the Mezan Center for Human Rights to see if we could get them to take us out for an interview with a family. No one was around, so we instead went to the Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR), also nearby... they too were hesitant (and asked for formal letters of request), but the young team persisted and the staff finally asked a field officer to take us out to a site in Beit Lahiya where several families and schools had been hard hit. The group worked in two teams conducting the interviews and filming the film; I was impressed at their clockwork dynamic. Even the 11-year old Mohammed closely held his professional Panasonic DVX camera (which was way bigger than his sholders) and shot footage indoors and in the streets, walking rapidly backwards to frame the shots. 

The group filmed 3 families two of which were in Jabaliya camp, each with devastating stories of loss and inspiring resilience. Abeer, the 15-year old girl directing the group, conducted most interviews along with Nour, while others assisted with photography and basic production work - a natural team with each one taking turns to manage the shoot. We did many interviews indoors, with several shots in the open to capture the destroyed homes and conversing while walking with our characters in the narrow alleys of the camp. Both cameras captured multiple angles of the shots; with nearly 3 hours of video it will be quite a bit of work for the group to begin sorting out and trimming their final scenes during editing.

In the afternoon, I conducted a brief hour-long tutorial of the VideoStudio editing software using an example of the "Rabbit City" film this group had shot last week. They have subsequently abandoned the story in favor of the human rights piece. So it made for a good example that was fun to edit. They learned the key elements of editing, trimming, sound tracks, audio recording, titling and transitions with only a few special effects in the context of this narrative. They suggested slow motion and repeat takes in some scenes, which all added nicely to the final film rendered.

Tomorrow all groups will begin organizing and capturing their footage to begin editing in groups, so we hope to get them off on a good track, though some may still insist on re-shooting a few scenes with audio/lighting issues. Let’s hope we can keep the full group engaged in the editing process somehow or find other constructive video/photo activities as the Al Aroub team has been trying.

Day 13: Power cuts and video editing...

A frustrating day for many groups as we struggled to begin video editing with just 3 laptops available for 5 groups. One finally finished shooting its last 2 scenes, while the others tried to review their footage, logging scenes, writing up key descriptions, and sequencing them on paper. 

The center had no power for most of the day - later we heard it was a scheduled power outage throughout the camp, and the center's only diesel generator simply broke-down. So we tried to use laptops with whatever battery charge was remaining, while some groups reviewed their footage on the tiny video camera screens. At some point 2-3 groups tried to move to other buildings (a nearby UN office and a special needs center) for an hour or so to continue working, however most simply fizzled out by early afternoon with all the logistical challenges and resource constraints.

Only one group managed to finish most of their initial editing (for the abstract silent film) while 2 others made it part way through their footage. My group had shot nearly 3 hours of interviews (using two cameras), so it took a great deal of time to sort through and select some key scenes from just one camera - turns out to be a more ambitious effort than expected. We have a great deal more to do tomorrow. The remaining two groups are still essentially beginning their editing work tomorrow. 
So the next 2 days will remain intensive if we can keep groups focused and manage with the power outages; our plan B is simply to move to another center temporarily. We'll review rough cuts tomorrow late afternoon, and hope to get all shorts completed by the end of the week for final screenings. 

I expect we'll do our post-workshop evaluations on Sunday morning, so all groups have enough time to wrap-up prior to it. I'm working on a new questionnaire for the evaluation.

We plan to do a community screening in Jabaliya camp early next week with families (Monday), and hopefully a public screening in Gaza the following weekend. That should give us more time to refine and finalize all films with subtitles, print a selection of photos (from both workshops) and arrange some publicity to attract local audiences in Gaza.

Day 14: Power back on and video editing progressing

Today was much better as we miraculously had power nearly all day at the woman's center in Jabaliya camp. After a quick warm-up we asked everyone to discuss their editing and shooting experience thus far, to get some feedback on things we can improve - of course power and access to working laptops on-time were their biggest concerns. 

We then broke up into our editing teams and tried to get everyone back on track; two groups waited around for new laptops to arrive which we had to setup with the editing software , both of them had to switch mid-stream twice, as their laptops crashed... and lost their initial edits. This was quite disruptive and frustrating, but the groups pressed ahead. 

My group spent a great deal of time reviewing and capturing a selection of key scenes from over 6 hours of video they shot using the two cameras. We finally got through most of it by the end of the day and made an initial rough-cut which fairly coherent. It’s the story about 3 families in Gaza devastated during the war, as captured through interviews by a team of young girls and their camera crew.

We made a brief review of 4 out of 5 films that completed rough-cuts today in a small group of children and trainers remaining late this afternoon. The feedback was very helpful to the groups. One group with the silent abstract film decided to lay a music track over it which nearly destroyed the overall effect of the power footage they shot. Many of us suggested they try creating another version with just natural sounds of the locations and spaces they used, and see what resonates better with everyone in the final reviews tomorrow.

After the long day, I spent another few hours in Gaza city meeting folks at the French Cultural Center, YMCA and Palestinian Red Crescent Society trying to get a venue for our exhibit and screening. I’m also checking with the Museum in Gaza (the "Mathaf") - a newly renovated private space by the sea near Beit Lahiya. Lets see what works out in the next few days. The event will likely be on August 1st for the opening, with the exhibit on for 2 weeks hopefully.

Day 15: youth video shorts making progress....

I think we got a lot done today as all groups were more focused on completing their editing. In the morning, we reviewed a check-list of things each one had to consider for their final pieces, including:

1. Writing up a title, summary, brief synopsis, and group names for each film
2. Ensuring their video sequences are coherent and concise to represent the intended storyline
3. Completing all voice recordings, soundtrack and adjusting audio levels for all scenes
4. Simplifying any transitions and effects to maintain a seamless flow in the visual narrative (and not distract the viewer)
5. Add the title and credits including acknowledging the community center and voices beyond walls
6. Writing up an Arabic dialog script with timestamps for the entire film, and translating it to English for subtitles
7. Ensuring any images or music in the film are copyright free or get permission or credit them. This year we need to ensure that copyrighted material is well handled if we plan to post the youth shorts on YouTube and submit them to film festivals.

The groups got through most items on the checklist, though many still need to adjust audio levels, and complete the Arabic/English scripting and subtitles. We plan to extend the workshop into Saturday to finalize their films (given the power cuts and laptop issues all week). All groups and trainers are eager to wrap up their films and are willing to work through the weekend.

On Sunday we plan to do our evaluations in focus groups for both the video workshop and the Dabke workshop kids (our comparison group). I'm working on the questionnaire this weekend.

Finally, we plan to do our community screenings with the families and distribute diplomas to all children at an event in the center on Monday evening, followed by a more public screening in Gaza at the “Mat’haf” (Museum) next Sunday. A satisfying close for a long and productive week; we are on our last stretch to complete the youth films by early next week.