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?