Documentary looks at life in refugee camps

Photo from After Spring’s website.

After Spring, a 2016 documentary, uncovers life in the Zaatari Refugee Camp by following two families and an aid worker. The film is being presented at KDocs Film Festival, Kwantlen Polytechnic University’s annual documentary screening event. The festival runs Feb. 16 to Feb. 19. 

Since the start of the Syrian conflict six years ago, more than four million Syrians have fled their homes. Close to 80,000 of these Syrian refugees made it to Jordan and are now living in the Zaatari Refugee Camp.

As the second-largest refugee camp in the world, Zaatari has evolved into a permanent settlement with a refugee-run market and shops as well as medical assistance and education for the children that make up over half of Zaatari’s residents.

Raising awareness at KDocs

We pride ourselves on not being a typical fest,” says Janice Morris, one of the founders and director of KDocs.

Helping to set KDocs apart are the keynote speakers and panel discussions after most screenings. According to Morris, KDocs organizers put as much time into the discussion as they do the film. An average Q&A at another festival might be five or 10 minutes, but KDocs aims for 45 to 60 minutes of dialogue post-screening.

In previous years the panels were larger, but this year, Morris says that by limiting the conversation to three panelists and the keynote speaker, the conversation will be more focused.

By screening films like After Spring, the conversations around the film help further discussions about Syrian refugees. Morris believes it’s for the people involved in the issue, whether they be people from Syria, those helping refugees or anyone else invested in this subject.

After Spring will be preceded by a keynote from Saleem Spindari, the manager of refugee and family settlement support services at MOSAIC, a nonprofit that helps newcomers to Canada get settled into their new lives.

Besides giving the opening remarks, Spindari will also be on the discussion and Q&A panel afterwards. He hopes the film will help create a strong dialogue around the issue of Syrian refugees.

“[Some of the ways] my team and I provide support to refugees is by raising awareness about refugee issues, recruiting private sponsors [and] providing training to private sponsors,” Spindari said.

Screenshot from the film After Spring. | Photo courtesy of After Spring

Providing a helping hand

Over 39,000 Syrian refugees have come to Canada since November of 2015. Just under 14,000 of those were private sponsorships, according to Immigration and Citizenship Canada.

Beyond assisting with applications and meeting the refugees at the airport, Spindari and his team also help refugees once they’ve landed in Canada by setting them up with donations of items like furniture or a computer.

Another program MOSAIC takes part in is Language Instruction for Newcomers to Canada (LINC), a federally-funded program for all immigrants including refugees to learn English or French. According to Spindari, just over 100 Syrian immigrants were in LINC classes at MOSAIC as of December 2016.

The other three panelists for After Spring include journalist Neetu Garcha, TEDx speaker and KPU student Naveen Zafar and settlement worker and KPU alumnus Saed Abu-Haltam.

“As we grow, we can do more,” Morris says. “This year, KDocs will be screening 12 films, five of which are Canadian. This doubles the length of the festival, from two days last year to four this year.”

When selecting films to screen, they start with up to 150 potential documentaries and narrow down the list based on timeliness and relevancy.

“We don’t shy away from uncomfortable conversations,” says Morris. “These topics tend to make for a really good debate. We encourage audience participation [in the discussions].”

One of Morris’ favourite sights is a line-up of people at the microphone. By getting students involved in KDocs, it helps to engage the student body and the community as well. Students from Kwantlen are on the board that organizes KDocs, as well as moderators for many of the film panels each year.

“[We try to have] students who work in the areas the film pertains to,” she says. “It’s another way to get more people involved.”

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