FilmAid is an innovative nonprofit organization that works to redefine humanitarian assistance through film. At the end of April 1999 during the Kosovo War, 600,000 Kosovars had become refugees and 400,000 people were displaced inside of Kosovo. To escape the conflict, many were forced to move to Albania, Macedonia, Montenegro and Bosnia. Producer Caroline Baron saw the news coverage of the situation and realized that all of the humanitarian aid came in the same form.

Large agencies like the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) handled essential issues – providing food, medical aid and shelter. However, these hundreds of thousands of Kosovar refugees needed emotional and mental assistance as well. They were losing hope. And Baron decided to do something about it.

Baron brought films to the refugee camps, hoping to counter the emotional toll and traumatic effects of the war. Initially, her crew stayed in Macedonia for eight weeks and presented a wide range of films and cartoons: Charlie Chaplin, E.T., Mrs. Doubtfire and Tom & Jerry. Later, they added films about topics like HIV prevention and land mine awareness. FilmAid seeks to not only entertain but also educate the refugees. FilmAid’s early efforts in Macedonia and Kosovo established the future framework of the organization and proved the powerful humanitarian impact of film. For the refugees, FilmAid’s movies became a glimmer of hope for the future.

Baron hoped to “feed the imagination and the soul while providing life-saving messages on the big screen to people with little access to crucial information.” And she did. Since its inception in 1999, FilmAid has grown exponentially. Liesl Spitz, FilmAid’s Development and Communications officer, stated that FilmAid provides the “psychological relief” that is absolutely essential for the well-being of those who have been traumatized by war and natural disasters. Feel-good films like Doctor Doolittle and Mr. Bean’s Holiday unfailingly boost morale, but FilmAid insists that the educational value of filmmaking itself is invaluable. As a result, FilmAid began implementing several programs to hold filmmaking workshops and encourage refugees to create their own films.

FilmAid later added more didactic films about health, hygiene, public safety and civic education. All were well-received by outside humanitarian organizations and the refugees themselves. With the support of the International Rescue Committee (IRC) and the UNHCR, FilmAid was able to expand to Africa. In September 2001, the organization brought the joy of film to thousands of refugees who arrived in East Africa from nations like Sudan, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia and Rwanda. Many of those refugees were former child soldiers and survivors of genocide.

In addition to its work in Africa, FilmAid now has programs and activities in Haiti, Thailand and Kenya. In 2008, FilmAid began to work in non-refugee communities like Kibera, the largest informal settlement in Nairobi, Kenya. Other areas of impact include Tanzania, the Gulf Coast and Afghanistan.

As IRC’s Gerald Martone said, “diversion is a luxury we afford ourselves without sacrifice. Why would we deprive it from refugees?”

— Kristy Liao

Sources: FilmAid, Huffington Post, Migration News
Photo: FilmAid


Dadaab Stories: By the People, For the People
A story is best told by someone who was there. Whereas many documentaries as made by directors and producers passionate about the cause they are filming for, there is a difference between an outsider shooting their subjects, and the subjects shooting themselves.

The organization FilmAid had initially begun to screen videos and films at refugee camps. These films were mostly educational, providing those living in refugee camps with important safety and health information. They also showed films for purely entertainment purposes in order to help lighten the mood and spirit at the camps. In 2011, however, the organization’s branch in Dadaab, the world’s biggest refugee camp in Somalia, began a special project entitled “Dadaab Stories” where it began to train the refugees to work the cameras themselves and have the chance to tell their stories from their perspective.

Dadaab was built in the 1990s to house 90,000 refugees. Today, it is the home to over 500,000 refugees. Describing life in a refugee camp is difficult; insiders know more and have been around longer than an outside film crew.

Ryan Jones, an American videographer who joined FilmAid’s project in 2011, said that the part of the appeal of the program that it strays from the usual model of “an American film crew coming into a camp and spending a short period of time there and shooting some kind of 90-minute doc we hope to get into Sundance.”

Refugees have made various videos such as an emergency response video regarding a cholera outbreak, a safety video for rape awareness, the camp’s orientation film, a music video for the local group Dadaab All Stars, and documentation of actress Scarlett Johansson’s visit.

In October of 2011, however, a kidnapping incident involving Doctors Without Borders created intense restrictions and security issues which prevented the FilmAid team from coming back to Somalia. Since then, the refugees have been trying to manage posting videos and have begun to make their camp-wide newspaper The Refugee available online.

This project has not only taught the refugees a new and unique skill they would otherwise not have the chance to learn, but it gives them a creative outlet to truly show the world what life in a refugee camp is like. They may not be making feature length films or Sundance-worthy documentaries, but their progress and work are so valuable that it could never be put into a simple award category.

– Deena Dulgerian

Source: Co.EXIST