The World in a Cup

And that’s a wrap on our third edition of Lights, Camera, Learn Tunis!

View the wonderful films we created over the last two weeks below and on our website here. There, you can also find some behind-the-scenes footage from our program as well as a little goodbye message our directors made (in Tunisian Arabic) as we departed from Tunisia. 

These videos are unique for the diversity of cultures within. This program coincided with the 2018 World Cup and as such, we decided to give the program a theme: the World in a Cup. We sought to educate our kids not only about the English language, but about the diversity of cultures we had brought to their country. Between the 15 members of our team, we were fluent in a total of six languages, including Cantonese, Spanish, and Portuguese. Some of our films even include these languages! Our endeavor to use our many languages, cultures and perspectives all relates back to our mission of connecting cultures. 

We hope you enjoy our stars' films!

This Is Why We Are Here

After the celebrations of the Eid weekend, we returned to Tunis to begin our third session of the summer. Lights, Camera, Learn Tunis brought our biggest team yet (15 interns!) together with thirty kids from around the city. We created four films, bringing our total number of productions to 38. Our week was filled with laughter, learning, and life lessons–and of course, challenges to overcome.

We had many advantages going into the week: we worked with one-third the amount of students as our last program, and had twice as many directors on our team. Our class sizes shrank down to about three kids per counselor, locals from the Sawarly program joined us to help with translation, transportation, and camera operation, and we had one extra day to finish up our films. Yet this program contained its own unique difficulties. 

Ten of the students who joined us this week are orphans. Upon meeting all of our stars at the start of the program, we learned that these ten face complex challenges.  Nearly all of these students came to us with a low level of English proficiency, as they have not yet taken formal languages classes in school. Further, these kids came into the program mistrusting of our team and our motives, unsure of themselves, and hesitant to join in our activities. Where the other twenty kids took only a couple of hours (or minutes) to open up and begin speaking in English, the ten took much longer. For some, it took them until the end of the first day to speak at all.  

Throughout the week we contended with shyness and self-consciousness. We knew that in order to give these kids a transformative experience, we’d have to work harder, put in more time and more energy and prove to them that everything we were doing was for their benefit.  

So we kept pushing. Little by little, through confidence-building exercises and patient instruction, we chipped away at their apathetic demeanor. We worked every day to help them feel included, to listen to their opinions and ideas, to make them feel valid, heard, and understood. And we watched them evolve, integrate, make friends, get out of their comfort zones, smile. Kousay became enraptured by a camera and throughout his film took on the role of sound operator, production assistant, and even director. Loue, through the script-writing process, found the confidence to sing in front of her team, and then on camera. On the first day working with our kids, we could see an obvious split between the orphans and the others. When we began to shoot, the differences began to blur. By the time we had wrapped, we saw no divisions, only four teams of excited kids who had had a life-changing experience together.

The challenges we faced with this group magnified the importance of our job as role models. This experience was similar to that of working with refugees, as we did last December. Much like our program in Sharjah, this week led us to realize the weight of our impact in the lives of these kids. 

This program might have been the first time that these kids had ever had the opportunity to speak in a new language. These six days might have contained for them the most personalized attention and energy that any teacher has ever given them. This week with Lights, Camera, Learn might have been the first time anyone has ever asked them about their ideas and searched for their talents. It might have been the first time anyone believed in them.

Because of these kids, we were reminded of why we are here. We travel the world to help kids to discover their passions, to dream of becoming something they never before thought possible. We work to give them the confidence to open up and to find their true passions, whether or not they lie in film and art. The effort and energy that these kids put into their films and their experience motivate us to continue our work. 

This is why we are. This is why we do what we do. This is what makes all of the hard work and long hours worthwhile. Though our travels are unforgettable, we are not here for ourselves. We are here for these people. We are here because the experiences we provide to kids have the potential to change the world and the impact we leave on their lives is immeasurable. 

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