Sawarly Film Retreat 2018

This week, Lights, Camera, Learn did something we’ve never done before.

On June 8th, our team brought together filmmakers from across Tunisia and the world to participate in a one-week cross-cultural film retreat. We challenged twenty-seven participants to team up and write, direct, and shoot four original short films in six days. For one weekall us lived and worked together in the coastal city of Bizerte, and through the challenges and triumphs of the filmmaking process, shared our ideas, languages, and cultures. We called this project Sawarly. In Arabic, “Film For Me.”
 

The 2018 Sawarly Film Retreat was the first of its kind, for the country of Tunisia and for Lights, Camera, Learn. Our organization has founded and facilitated film and cultural projects for three years, but only revolving around kids. Sawarly was a kind of experiment, a let’s-see-what-happens when we bring an international group of young adults together under one roof, for one week, to try to create good art. Truthfully, we didn’t know what would happen. Would anyone like each other? Would anyone speak the same language? Would all of these cultures cooperate–or clash? 

Sawarly looked like this: two days of brainstorming and script-writing, two days of shooting, and two days to edit a rough cut before 6pm on Day Six. Our schedule was pretty tight, but we thought our team was up for the challenge. 

We began our program by facilitating conversation regarding identity and values across our different cultures. The openness and trust we achieved at the very start of the program allowed our shared ideas to inspire our conversations, scripts, and films.
 

After first greetings and orientation, four teams were assembled and tasked with pitching a film by 11am the following morning. But the challenges didn’t end at ice breakers and deadlines. All of our participants’ films had to meet certain requirements: run no longer than five minutes, include ten seconds of a Tunisian song, and a shot of the Tunisian flag. And all the films had to revolve around the theme of “Day and Night.” The constraints and tight schedule forced our teams to get creative and work together. 

Production of Days Three and Four introduced everyone to our setting: Bizerte, the northernmost city in Africa, and a colorful hub of Tunisian culture. During their shoots, our teams hit the ground running, exploring every alley and thoroughfare of Bizerte in search of the perfect location to best display their vision. Every member played a vital role in their film, no player more important than another. Our most experienced participants offered guidance and new filmmakers rose to the challenge of the program.  

Our beach house was alive with conversation and coffeemakers as our teams compiled their footage and captured their last few shots on Days Five and Six. On the last day of the program, as the clock struck 6, our teams finalized their rough cuts and exported their films, and we shared a last Iftar dinner together. We reflected on our week; on everything we had learned and faced; on everything we were grateful for; on everyone who had contributed to the unforgettable experience of Sawarly. Unwilling to waste a minute of our final hours together, we made our way to the sea to watch the sun rise across the Mediterranean for one last moment as a team. 

The first ever Sawarly Film Retreat brought together twenty-seven participants, seven languages, and seven nationalities to create four original films under one unifying theme. Working together, our teams navigated the challenges of language barriers, creative constraints, and differences in vision, opinion andculture. Because of our shared love for film and art, and the commitment and openness of our participants, all gaps were bridged and challenges overcome.

This week we sought out to create a space for young people to collaborate, exchange, and learn from one another. Our doubts at the start of the week had evaporated by the end of Day One, and by Day Six we could not imagine life without our newfound friends. At the end of the program, we felt that we had not only achieved our goals, but had created something truly unique. We produced four inspiring works. We created a community of filmmakers that extends beyond borders. And most importantly, we enabled twenty-seven individuals to see beyond differences and find that we are far more alike than we are different. 

Now that we have proven the potential of this program, we can bring Sawarly around the world. Anywhere there is passion for culture, filmmaking, and friendship, there is a place for Sawarly. 

Where should we shoot next?

Tunis at Ramadan

Last week, our team flew across the Mediterranean to get prepped for the second program of the year in Tunisia. In our first week on the African continent, we explored from the capital city of Tunis to the clean shores of Bizerte, all the way down to the economic hub of Sfax. Throughout the week, we’ve had the chance to experience the vibrance of Ramadan. 

Ramadan is not only a religious holiday but one of the most culturally rich times in the Arab world. As we witnessed in the Middle East, during the month of Ramadan the true character of the people is on full display. 

From the moment the sun rises, the people fast. Morning is a hectic rush to complete all errands before businesses close by early afternoon. Heat is an obstacle to overcome as the people patiently wait for sundown. At 3, the roads are a mess with traffic. The late afternoon is a time for napping and cooking. The roads are empty by 7. 

But as the call to prayer echoes over the city and the sun dips below the horizon, the city breaks its fast. Families enjoy the Iftar dinner at home, celebrating their first drink of water since dawn. Food and laughter is shared as the people regain their energy. The streets are quiet through the dinner hour, but slowly, neon lights illuminate and the city comes alive. By 10, Tunis’ bustling streets are overflowing, its citizens returning to errands, business, and recreation. Long past midnight, people squeeze into the narrow alleys of the old city, relaxing, drinking sweet tea and smoking shisha at outdoor coffeeshops, and bartering with merchants for clothes and spices. Music echoes around the city from musicians wandering the streets, bringing people to their feet for a dance. The city stays up late through Ramadan, taking every opportunity to enjoy the gifts of food, water, family, and health. 

In Tunis and across the world, Ramadan is a time for appreciation and giving, celebration and shared times with loved ones. Although to get into the flow of Tunis at Ramadan is an adjustment, especially for those who have never experienced such a shift in schedule, for Lights, Camera, Learn travelers, it is a wonderful privilege to learn about the culture of Tunisia at such a fascinating and enjoyable time

Connections and Departures

Riding the afterglow of our Red Carpet event, our team embarked on a four-day excursion across the Kingdom of Jordan for one last adventure together. After spending a night in the capital of Amman, we traveled down the border, where we spent the morning and midday floating in the salty waters of the Dead Sea. After a rejuvenating mud bath, our team headed to the village of Wadi Mousa, just outside the ancient city of Petra. Thursday found us journeying through the wonder of the modern world, between vaulting sandstone canyons and into miraculously-crafted tombs carved into the rock. To end our adventure, we traveled out into the desert of Wadi Rum, the Valley of Sand, where we spent the night sleeping under the stars and sharing a final memory as a team. We reflected on the adventures of the previous month, and what it was we had all learned.

All of us had grown in ways we could not have expected. We had learned from our students as much as they had learned from us. We had had our expectations exceeded, and our eyes opened. We had formed strong bonds with new friends and found ourselves with many new places to call home. Perhaps most importantly, through our shared experiences with the people of Nazareth, Baqa Al-Gharbiyye, Ar’ara, and Jordan, we had all had our misconceptions about this part of the world, its people, and its culture, eliminated. 

What we hear and see of the Israel/Palestine region, in news, in pop culture, in politics, even in academia, is overwhelmingly negative. Conflict, violence, division are the images that become associated with the Middle East, far beyond Israel and Palestine. And yet what we experienced through the last month could not be farther from that image. 

Every day, we saw connection. We saw sharing, community, and happiness. We were offered kindness and hospitality almost everywhere we went, and witnessed first-hand the people’s desire for peace, on both sides of the regions many conflicts. We reflected on why it was so important for us to have done our work in this region: despite the division, in this part of the world, there is so much potential for connection. And we were able to be apart of that connection. 

We wished our team a fond farewell once we returned to Amman. Though most of our team will return to our lives and routines back home, we will certainly never forget the wisdom we learned here. We will continue to seek out connection wherever it can be found.  

"Life is like a camera"

On Monday night, we hosted our first Red Carpet event of the summer. We were joined by all 111 of our students, their families, our new friends, sponsors, and even the mayors of Ar’ara and Baqa. Our biggest event yet, the first Red Carpet of the summer hosted over 400 people.

And what a night it was.

Our team brought it all together—even if we were a bit last-minute. Jamming subtitles, credits, and a blooper reel into all ten films had us exporting footage up until the final moment. But miraculously, we showcased all of our students’ hard work and progress for their families, schools and communities to see. Once the final film had ran and the lights came up, our team breathed a deep, collective sigh of relief, having finally reached the end of our first program of 2018. In that moment, all the stress of the past two weeks melted away like ice cream in the desert. 
 

Our work is challenging. Most of the time it is exhausting. Every program brings new obstacles to overcome, and a fresh batch of kids to figure out. We’re never without setbacks, frustrations are imminent, and the nature of our work makes improvisation part of the plan. At the end of the program, even after we’ve completed all the lessons and activities designed to force kids out of their comfort zone and get them speaking English, we wonder what kind of difference we have actually made in their lives, if our work has made any difference at all. Because we can’t experience the impact we are leaving on these kids, their communities, and their futures. All we see when our work is finished on Day 5 of the program is a group of tired kids who had no idea making a movie was so difficult. 

But our Red Carpet events give us the incredible opportunity to see the impact of our work. We get to see our films played on the big screen for hundreds of people, but far more importantly, we get to witness our students seeing themselves on the big screen for the first time in their lives. We get to hear their laughter when their friends say their first line of dialogue, when they watch the blooper reels and see just how long it took them to nail their lines, or when they realize why we made them rehearse a single scene over and over and over. We get to see their parents’ faces light up when they hear their children speak English for the first time, and their teachers celebrate when they see how much their students have improved in just one week. At our Red Carpet, we realize just how much of a difference we had made in the lives of our students.

As the night ended, our 400 guests swirled around us, snapping photos and exchanging phone numbers. Students begged us to return next year; their parents offered to host us in their homes. We no longer saw groups of kids who were exhausted at the end of a long week; we saw students who had realized their own growth. And that made all of our work worth it. 

At the end of our ceremony, as we took the stage for our final send-off, a parent asked to speak to us for the audience to hear. After thanking us for our dedication to their children and openness to their culture, she said this quote to us: 

“Life is like a camera. Focus on what's important. Capture the good times. Develop the negatives. And if things don't work out, just take another shot.”

Her words are something none of us will soon forget. 

“You are welcome here”

On Thursday, the Lights, Camera, Learn team finished the first of our six summer programs. Exhausted but inspired, our team spent the weekend backing up footage and behind-the-scenes photographs, and exploring the cities of Bethlehem, Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. We recapped the week on our rides across the region.

Our team of nine, supported by local friends and educators, found a way to navigate the triple-threat challenge of filmmaking, working with kids, and overcoming a language barrier. This session will be the biggest of our entire summer: a program of over 60 kids from ages 8 to 12, across all levels of English proficiency. And yet despite the challenges, we wrote, directed, and produced six different films — in five days.

 Kids and educators alike shared laughs, cries, setbacks, and celebrations, and by the end of the session, had grown in ways they couldn’t have foreseen. For some of our kids, this was their first chance to speak with native English speakers. For many more, it was their first chance to get in front of a camera and have their ideas explored. For both our team of interns and our groups of kids, it was a week of discovery. 

We watched as the kids who stayed shy and quiet on Day 1 broke out of their shell and shined on camera by Day 5. The kids who already had a handle on the language played the role of Assistant Director and sound Operator, aiding our directors and educators in communicating with their classmates, dropping the slate, and even holding the boom pole while our directors of photography captured the action.

As we looked through the footage from our first program, our team was reminded of our own childhoods: when it was that we all found our passion for film. For most of us it was when we were 11 — the same age of the kids we are now working with. If we thought we were cool when we were 11, then these kids are the coolest on the planet. Not only are these kids facing their fears, working with foreigners, and sharing their creativity, they are doing all of this in a new language.

On Sunday we get started on our second five-day session with an entirely new group of bright kids. We’ll bring four more scripts to life, and on May 21st, we host the first Red Carpet Event of the summer.

Every day we are learning new things: what life is like here, the differences between our many cultures, but also what we have in common. Perhaps the most common realization that our team has had is that in all the places we’ve traveled around the world (and ours is a well-traveled group), we’ve never met a more welcoming culture. So many people, from our sponsors, to our new friends, to the random people we meet on the street, have said to us and on more than one occasion, “You are welcome here.”

Our friends and hosts demonstrate it to us every day: they bring us food while we are working, they invite us to into their homes to meet their families, they teach us their dances, language, and customs. And they expect no thanks, only that we share with them these experiences.

As our Nazareth Program hits the halfway point, we’re looking forward to what adventures and realizations we’re sure to have in the coming weeks.

First Impressions

Traveling to a new place is exhilarating–and exhausting. Weeks of planning, days of packing, six to sixteen hours in flight finally land you in your first moments on foreign soil. No true traveler expects sunshine and paradise as soon as they step foot out of the plane. Jet lag, language barriers, and passport control hit you before baggage claim. But for Lights Camera, Learn, it’s all part of the experience.

This week, the Lights, Camera, Learn team assembled in Nazareth to begin our first program of the summer. Seven interns from various places around the world arrived curious and excited about the adventures and challenges ahead, and in only a matter of hours, connected with one another over a shared passion for film and culture.

Almost as soon as our team arrived, we began to explore: from the small village where we are staying in Ar’ara to the region of Galilee in the north; across to the ancient city of Acre; to Baqa Al-Gharbiyye and then up to the storied city of Nazareth; to the coastal destinations of Caesarea and Haifa.

Three days of adventure quickly bound our team to one another, and to our new local friends who guided us through our first days in their country. To be in such group; to hear the ideas that have come about between our team of interns; to get a better understanding of this country’s politics, history, food, music, and lifestyle from its people; is nothing short of inspiring.

All of us have been witness to first impressions this past week: of one another, of Israel, of its diverse people and unique cultures. Our most important first impressions will come when we meet the first batch of kids we’ll be working with for the next two weeks. By then, our team will be well-rested and ready to connect with the people of this country on everything from film to music to dance.

In only a couple of days, it has become apparent that neither a language barrier nor jet lag will stop this team from giving this program their all, and finding the fulfillment in the unfamiliar. The coming weeks are all but guaranteed to leave every one of us with an impression that lasts.

Sharjah 2017

With 2017 coming to an end, Lights, Camera, Learn, has taken on yet another project. This time, it’s in Sharjah!  

In partnership with Emirates Red Crescent, Lights, Camera, Learn has organized a weeklong program immersing 33 girls (ages 10-14) who had fled war-torn Syria,  in filmmaking activities that aim to both empower and educate them. The goal by the end of the week is to have had the girls write, create, and act out movies or music videos of their own making, having picked up the skillsets necessary to hone in their English speaking and writing skills along the way.  

Day 1

Upon their arrival, the girls played a quick game of Zig Zag Boing to warm them up for the rest of the day. The game - which focuses on the verbal and visual communication between its players -also helped break the ice between the kids and the Lights, Camera, Learn team members. We then had a round of introductions, followed by a dance off that ensured that everyone was both well acquainted and in high spirits!  

Then, the real work began. In order to discern the girls’ linguistic abilities, we split them into four groups, and had them take part in different activities, rotating every 20 minutes between each station.  The activities - which ranged from identifying and acting out certain emotions; carry out various improve skits; playing the “Walk Like…” game; and learning/singing along to the lyrics of a song – helped us identify each girl’s strengths in order to later amplify them in the filmmaking process. The last activity of the day entailed a brainstorming session, during which each group came up with one idea for a short skit they were then to write a script for. The purpose behind this activity was to prepare them for the work of Day 2, which would mainly revolve around starting the creative process of writing the scripts of the movies they wanted to film for the rest of the week.  

Day 2  

We started off the second day with a quick round of Zig Zag Boing. Now that they were a little more familiar with the technicalities and the over-all gist of the game, the girls gave it their all. It was the perfect warm up for what would later turn out to be quite an intensive day.  

We started off the day’s activities by dividing the girls once again into four groups. Stations were set up with activities meant to kick-start the process of brainstorming what movies they wanted to create over the course of the week. Each group sat down with a team member, browsing through various movies and film ideas posted online. 

The girls explored the different kinds of movies that have gained momentum and traction as of late, such as YouTube make up tutorials, short films, parodies, song covers, and the like.  They then voiced out their opinions in a discussion session that followed, highlighting what they liked and what they didn't.  Each group also spent some time learning the different movie genres they could choose from, after which each group sat down with its director, and they agreed on a single movie idea.  

We then started scriptwriting.  

Day 3

After having spent two days brainstorming, planning, and writing, the girls were ready to bring their movies to life.  Each group sat down with two LCL team members to help them rehearse and memorize their lines. This proved to be challenging at first. Given the fact that this week-long program served as the first time most of these girls had ever been exposed to English at this caliber and to this degree, the girls oftentimes struggled to pronounce and enunciate some of the vocabulary coherently.   This process took up the entirety of the third day, but was perhaps the most educational in terms of grammatical and phonetic exposure to the English language.  It was a productive – albeit lengthy – process to say the least.  

Day 4 & 5


We began filming two of the four movies on the fourth day. The other two groups – which were set to start filming on the fifth day - spent their time rehearsing their lines and scenes. They also worked on writing and coloring the numbers they were to submit to the online Girls Count campaign.  

Each of the girls was also asked to sit down with an LCL team member in order to give feedback about the program – the challenges they faced, what they enjoyed, and any advice they had for any future LCL projects. The groups swapped roles the next day. By the end of the fifth day, production was officially over!   

The red carpet event!

Our Red Carpet Event is a unique opportunity whereby our stars get to celebrate their short films, the result of their hard work, and share happy moments of a unique educational experience with their teachers, family, and friends.

At the event, children get to be treated as ‘Hollywood’ stars. They dress glamorously. They walk on the red carpet; they go on stage and receive achievement certificates and performing trophies. They also participate in Q/A sessions whereby parents and friends ask questions relevant to their participation in the short films. 

The LCL RCE is a major celebration of an educational achievement