Who better than the Decatur-based Global Village Project to host the screening in Atlanta of “After Spring,” the documentary about the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan, one of the largest for Syrians fleeing the civil war in their ravaged country.
The documentary was shown at the Regal theater in Atlantic Station the evening of Feb. 7 on what by coincidence was the same day that Georgia‘s U.S. Sen. David Perdue introduced legislation to cut by nearly half the number of refugees permitted to enter the U.S.
Steph Ching and Ellen Martinez, the acclaimed documentary’s directors and producers, attended the Global Village Project event, which drew more than 100 viewers, many of whom volunteer their time at the high school preparatory program that serves teenage refugee girls whose educations have been interrupted and who have limited English proficiency.
Amy Pelissero, the project’s head of school, told Global Atlanta that its 42 currently enrolled students are representative of the millions of girls whose “lives and opportunities have been directly impacted by war, displacement, economic hardship and cultural norms that place a low priority on girls’ formal education.”
Dr. Pelissero added that over the course of the past eight years the GVP provided more than 180 students “with the education they need to succeed in high school and beyond.”
She also said that 20 of the girls have graduated from high school and 15 of those are enrolled in local colleges and universities including the Georgia Institute of Technology, Agnes Scott College, Berry College and Georgia State University. Forty more are still enrolled in private and public high schools throughout the Atlanta metro area.
“Prospects are good for our girls,” she said. “GVP offers each student an excellent education, care and a community of support so that she may achieve her greatest potential.” The program has focused on girls, she added, because its founders who were working with refugee students in after-school and Saturday school tutoring programs, recognized that older teenage girls had particular needs and gaps in their education.
Her comments stand in startling contrast to the experience of the girls at the Zaatari camp portrayed in the documentary, which focuses on the day-to-day rhythms of how its residents have adapted to life in the camp.
Having begun as a temporary village of tents in July 2012, today it has evolved into far more than a tent camp and resembles a city of small mobile container homes where more than 100,000 refugees await the opportunity to return to their homeland. It even has its own “Champs Elysees” with 3,000 restaurants, wedding suppliers and pet shops.
Life goes on at the camp with the arrival of 10 to 15 babies born each day in the camp’s limited maternity ward, and a total of more than 5,000 births since it first opened.
“I think I was most impressed by the directors/filmmakers’ abilities to call attention to the refugees’ strengths, resiliency and resourcefulness in the camp,” Dr. Pelissero told Global Atlanta.
“Despite the imposed limitations and seeming lack of resources, they were determined to make new lives for themselves and families there. I was struck by the entrepreneurial spirit of the camp, and the businesses including bakeries and shops along the “Champs Elysees.”
The directors Ms. Ching and Ms. Martinez, who met at film school in New York and spent parts of their childhoods outside of the U.S., told Global Atlanta that they first thought they would do a feature film about Syrian refugee children learning taekwondo from the Korean martial arts master Charles Lee, whom they had heard about.
But once at the camp they realized that while the Zaatari Taekwondo Academy was a compelling story and an important aspect of life at the camp because it provided an emotional and physical outlet for the children and youths under 18, it was only one aspect of life at the camp.
By capturing its daily life and focusing particularly on two families, they were able to draw viewers into the sorts of lives experienced by a wide range of the camp’s inhabitants.
“In general, I was impressed by the cinematography in the film and was grateful to be able to watch the film in a theater on the ‘big’ screen,” Dr. Pelissero said. “It was impressive and powerful to see the expansiveness of the the camp in the desert.
“I have seen many, many pictures on my computer of camps before, but it is something to see on that big screen and so much to take in—thinking about the huge numbers of refugees in the world today and the huge numbers seeking shelters in camps.”
“I had not seen the stat about one in 122 people being a refugee in the world today,” she added. “I am still thinking about the enormity of that and what our obligations and responsibilities are to each other around this globalized world if that is the case.”
By focusing on the families of Mohammed, a father of five, among the founders of the camp, and on that of Abu Ibrahim, a father of two, the viewers are drawn into the most intimate family scenes and share in their frustrations, chief of which is the inability to go home to their destroyed cities and bombed out residences.
While their meals seem plentiful, the ennui of being trapped by the sounds of television newscasts reporting on the nonstop violence and the extremes of hot and cold weather is palpable.
Particularly moving are their recollections of their lives at home, which are accompanied by home videos that the directors were able to obtain and splice into the film — lives that they will never be able to reclaim.
During a question and answer session following the screening, the directors said that they chose “After Spring” as the title because it captures the sense of waiting and anticipation that the conflict in Syria would finally be resolved so that they could return home.
Concerning the legislation being put forward by Mr. Perdue along with U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas, Dr. Pelissaro said that she was “saddened” to read the press reports in the morning.
“Refugees in Georgia have contributed so much to our local economy and to our community,” she added. “In the midst of the worst refugee crisis the world has seen since the aftermath of World War II, we believe that the U.S. should maintain its commitment to providing refuge and possibilities for the world’s displaced and persecuted.
“At Global Village Project, we stand in solidarity with our refugee students, their families and the wider refugee community. We pledge to continue our service to the refugee young women who come to our school seeking safety, security, community and an excellent education.
“These young women and their families dream of high school graduation, college, careers and giving back to their communities here in their new home and to their families and communities in the countries they were forced to flee.”
The tenor of Mr. Perdue’s Reforming American Immigration for Strong Employment Act doesn’t reflect the humanitarian concerns of agencies seeking to deal with the more than 65 million displaced by violence in the world or, more specifically, the 21.3 million refugees, many of whom fled the war in Syria.
Rather, the legislation claims that the admission of “low-skill or unskilled immigrants” provides “a major factor on the downward pressure on the wages of working Americans, with the wages of recent immigrants hardest hit.”
Jon Stewart, who for many years hosted the Daily Show on television, and Chris McShane also helped to produce “After Spring.” It is to premiere on the STARZ premium cable and satellite television network on Friday, Feb. 10. For more details, click here.