The protagonists of the film share a common ground: They live in Jenin Camp, they were babies during the massacre in Jenin Camp and they all carry the burden not only of the massacre’s aftermath but also of the constant Israeli Military nightly raids. And yet, each one of them has his own personal story.
The film will focus on the stories of Somoud and Mahmoud. Two kids with exceptional personalities. Somoud, the young girl, stands for the growing feminist girl in a traditional and conservative Islamic society under occupation. Mahmoud, who left school very early, stands for the young philosopher whose sensibility and cleverness gave him the ability to contemplate about himself and about his environment in a philosophical way.
Somoud, like most of the girls at her age worldwide, spends a lot of time on her smartphone. She is very well-informed about life outside the camp and about the different life-styles other girls have. She likes Britney Spears and she likes to be dressed like western girls. Her beautiful long curly-hair is her trademark and she is not willing to wear a headscarf like most of the girls in the camp do.
Somoud is very clever and she is well aware to the pressure people put on her to cover the hair and to dress traditionally, but she refuses so far to abide by the will of the others. She knows though that this pressure will get stronger as she grows up and that she would be forced to make some compromises.
Mahmoud has seen and experienced a lot for his age. He says that being born and growing up in the camp does not give him the chance to be and to live as a child. “Our childhood had been stolen from us,” he says. Mahmoud, like many other kids in the camp, witnessed with his own eyes the killing of some people who were very close to him. Some of his friends are in jail too. Mahmoud remembers how Israeli soldiers entered his home while he and his family were asleep and how he and his brothers were awaken by heavily armed soldiers. “They took my brothers to the street and forced them to take off their clothes,” Mahmoud recalls, “It was during winter and I could watch them through the window,” They did not take Mahmoud because he was only a few years old. These circumstances created a reflective boy out of Mahmoud. Mahmoud is looking for something that would make his living meaningful.
The film will show how these traditional norms and habits affect the girls in a different manner than the boys and will demonstrate how the impacts and consequences of the occupation could be so diverse accordingly.
The film will use the stories of the other protagonists to shed more light on Somoud and Mahmoud to make their stories more and more comprehensible.
The film will focus on the stories of Somoud, the rebel girl, and Mahmoud, the little philosopher. Somoud’s story tells a lot about the struggle of girls within conservative Muslim societies, in general. Mahmoud is a profound boy who reflects a lot about his situation as a boy being born in a Palestinian refugee camp.
While for Mahmoud school is a waste of time when living under occupation, Ahmad believes that education is the only way out and plans to make it to university against all odds. While Ashgan is a shy girl who never leaves the house alone and hardly talks to anybody, Somoud succeeds in convincing her parents to participate in the first girls’ football team of Jenin Refugee Camp.
Somoud’s and Mahmoud’s paths will now and then cross the paths of the other protagonists, which will add alternative perspectives and details of a child’s life under military occupation.
Concept and Style
As we don’t invent the stories we tell, but instead find them in the raw material of the kid’s lives, our story-line is not set yet and will be developed in the editing room.
The benchmarks of our film are set by a concept of time (8 years in the lives of ten kids from the age of 10 until 18) and a narrative attitude that will never let any other but the kid’s perspective be in focus.
The story will be told by the protagonists themselves without an off-screen-voice. Text inserts could provide information where necessary.
Music is going to be an important element though we will try to keep it from overly influencing what is happening on screen. The score will add to the feeling and emotion, but not take it over.
Visually the film tries to transport certain themes of the story like the narrowness of society or the camp’s alleys, the lack of perspective and the constantly growing hopelessness. The camera is at eye-level with the kids and seems invisible to the protagonists and the audience.
KIDS OF JENIN CAMP aims to be a strong character-driven story. It is to be a hopeful film that stirs the heart as deeply as it cries out for action.
The filmmakers never lose sight of the exuberance, grit and humor that the kids hold onto even in moments of the greatest desperation.
Stage of Development
Kids of Jenin camp is a long-term documentary that has been going on for seven years. The special situation of kids living in a refugee camp made it difficult for the film makers to foresee the results of their filming and receive funding in the beginning of the film-making process. For the last seven years they have invested their money to make this film come true.
The team is now trying to finance the production of the next two years, in which they will keep on filming the kids every six months for approximately ten days of shooting. In between the shootings the team will work on the dramatic concept and start the editing process.
The idea for this film came developed in 2013 when I first visited Jenin Refugee Camp. It was during my three-year engagement as the artistic director of the Cinema Jenin in the north of Palestine, when I regularly explored the occupied West Bank, a place new for me as a Palestinian from Israel who had been living in Germany for the past 40 years.
As I walked through the narrow alleys of the camp taking pictures, there was something that immediately struck me: The large amount of kids present everywhere. While some were excitedly playing on the street, others seemed mentally absent, sitting on some stairways and staring at a wall. Most of them, however, instantly noticed me as the stranger and curiously asked me who I was and why I was taking pictures.
It didn’t take long until me and the kids became friends and they were keen on telling me about the life they were leading in the camp. To me it was overwhelming to watch and feel the amount of joy and energy the kids of Jenin Camp were expressing, despite their obviously harsh and inhumane living conditions.
Being Palestinian myself and having lived on the other side of the border, I could never have imagined that my own people were living under such extreme and radical conditions.
At the same time being Palestinian made it easier for me to gain the trust of the people living in the camp, who naturally confront strangers with a certain amount of skepticism and suspiciousness. I was lucky to be invited into people’s homes and given the opportunity to observe their daily lives closely. A privilege that most other foreign film-makers would probably not have had.
Back to Hamburg and overloaded by the endless stories I had heard from the kids, I shared my impression and pictures and videos I had taken with my daughter, Alena, who is a television journalist for the German Public Broadcast. For days we didn’t stop talking about those kids and it did not take long for us to decide to return to Jenin Camp with one goal: Giving those kids a voice.
But not only that. The question we asked ourselves over and over again was: How would those kids come of age? What would happen to their smiles and curiosity? Would they survive the coming years or make place for frustration, sadness and indifference? Would all of those kids become victims of violence and might some even decide to carry out violence themselves? Who would those bright kids become?
We decided to start maybe the biggest project of our lives: A long-term documentary of five girls and five boys. The idea was to make a documentary with only one narrator: The kids themselves. The kids should be the ones leading the audience through their world, a world of brutality and poverty, but also a world of family, friendship and community. The camera should be invisible to the audience and, with the time, also to the protagonists themselves. The final film should be a portrait of ten Palestinian refugee kids and their world, as intimate and authentic as it could be.
We chose the protagonists, or maybe it was the protagonists who chose us. We met them twice a year, each time for one month. Our relationship grew and so did their trust and authenticity in front of the camera. We watched them grow from children to teenagers and develop their personalities, dropping out of school and starting to wear the Islamic headscarf, watering the plants on their father’s graves and joining the first girls’ football-team, founding poetry-groups and being imprisoned. And yet the story has not ended.
We want to continue filming our protagonists until the end of 2020, when all of them will have reached adulthood. Their stories will not only impress and touch the audiences, they will also stand for millions of children worldwide who suffer from conflict, poverty and lack of perspectives. Raising awareness to these kids’ perspective and understanding what impacts these conditions can have on the long-term development of a child is of unique value and urgently needed in today’s world.
Ismael & Alena Jabarine