Middle East – In Their Own Words

Date: 13.02.2016
Category: Making Of, Video

by Youssef Alaoui, Director

Towards the end of 2015 I shot and directed twelve short films with Wired Video for UNICEF, on the plight of Syrian and Iraqi refugee children on location in Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, Egypt, Turkey. The series titled “In Their Own Words” concentrates on the children’s hopes and dreams for the future, despite the hardships they currently face.

Here is a compilation film, which was shown along with some of the other films at the Save Syria conference in London in February 2016.

You can see all the films here

In the pre-production period we came up with concept that we’d like the films to portray the world from the point of view of the children. The best possible way to achieve this was by using GoPro’s and letting them film themselves as much as possible. 

After months of planning and working with UNICEF to identify great documentary subjects I spent 5 weeks travelling around the region, mainly shooting for 4 days in each country, with 2 children.

In each country I spent the first day getting to know our heroes a little. After a little bit of training on the cameras and explaining the different type of shots we would need I left the cameras with them and asked them to capture life as normal, waking up, journey to school, studying, helping out at home and anything else they felt was important.

It was amazing to see how quickly they picked it up.  In doing so they captured intimate footage that would have been impossible using more conventional methods. The master interviews and remaining sequences I filmed on a Canon C300.

Filming in refugee camps and communities that have lost everything isn’t an easy task. After five years of war in Syria and even longer in Iraq there’s a lot of suspicion of the motives of the media and people are tired of having lenses pointed in their face with no tangible end result in sight. Luckily this situation was very different. Through spending time with the families I managed to gain their trust and they let us become a part of them for a short period to fully get their stories across which I was really grateful for.

The situation in Syria was too dangerous for me to film on the ground so we decided to go with a local cameraman (who wishes to remain anonymous). In the run up to him filming I spent hours on terrible Skype connections explaining what we’d need from the films, the casting was done on Whatsapp. When we received the footage back, it exceeded all of our expectations. Saja’s story went on to gain over 1.5 million views in a day when picked up by AJ+. The cameraman  and myself have become very close and I really hope that we get the opportunity to film together in person one day.     

I wanted a common theme to run through the films and I got in touch with London based fashion label Statemeant. They provided all the children in the films with custom made t shirts with the slogans Peace, Love & Hope which was a really nice touch.

Overall the experience was extremely humbling. All the children I filmed with have had their childhood ripped away from them through no fault of their own. However the resilience, ambition and belief they have in themselves and the power of education was a lesson I will never forget and one we can all learn from.

The films were produced by Raj Yagnik with Daria Ng from UNICEF, and were edited by Raj with help from Mike Ho. Music is by Roma Yagnik.