Trees Die Standing

 

Our documentary making process was an incredible experience, each of us grew as individuals as we learned how to bring our own qualities and knowledge to the team. One of the hardest aspects was getting started with the entire project, being a group that had never worked together before, especially on such an emotional project, was a bit intimidating. However, as soon as we got things started every step continued to fall into place, and our strength as a team continued to grow. The idea of creating a short documentary on a Syrian refugee came from our editor and director, Johnny Rafter. Prior to the project Johnny had worked on an award winning SBIFF film. Shaina Goel is also an experienced film maker, who also was simultaneously working on a film which was screened at the SBIFF. As for me, Kassandra Gutierrez, I am a news reporter with experience in covering film events, real life stories and conducting one on one interviews.

As a group, we met consecutively to plan for our shoots and brainstorm our overall goals for our project. We then took a trip to Los Angeles, to meet Fadia Afashe, the main subject of our documentary, for the first time, and sat with her for a couple of hours, to interview and film her. J

Johnny Rafter, shot directed and edited the film. During our first shooting session he set up the set location and filmed the interview, making sure sound levels and shots were all intact. Rafter, went down to Los Angeles for a second time to film Afashe in a painting studio, where he was able to shoot some b roll of Afashe painting for the documentary. After these two sessions, we also filmed our music talents, SiJie Loo, Ziyad Marcus and Salem Khattar. Once we had the complete footage, along with the music, Rafter started to edit parts together and come up with what we see now, a moving and emotional piece of art in its whole.

During our first filming session, despite it being her first time, Shaina Goel conducted a powerful and emotional interview with Afashe. Goel, acted as a natural throughout the entire interview and was extremely relatable, making Afashe feel comfortable and asking questions that followed what she was saying. During the music recording session, Goel also helped with setting up the set and making sure the necessary equipment was available.

I, Kassandra Gutierrez, worked on contacting Afashe, as well as our musicians and working out scheduling shooting sessions and locations with our artists. I also had the opportunity to ask Afashe some questions as part as the interview. During the music recording session I too helped with the set up, and was in charge of the sound levels throughout the performances.

The process of this project was a great experience, as we all learned new things about ourselves, Goel was able to execute her documentary filmmaking and interviewing interest, Rafter was able to create a documentary similar to his inspiration, My Aleppo, and I, Gutierrez, was able to practice sound levels in film and bring my fields of studies together, film and music.

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Trees Die Standing

Midterm

Overview

Our short documentary will be a biography on Fadia Afashe, artist and activist living in Los Angeles. We are interested in her use of art as a medium of activism. Just as we have been studying in FAMST 165DA, activism on a digital platform is now common and effective, specifically in the Middle East. As a refugee from the Middle East, Fadia has had to translate her experiences and her activism in her own form which is in art. We will film her, giving her an identity beyond her art and ask her to speak of her own form of activism, displaying the diversity in activism and how it is expressed. Some questions we will ask her include, how have you connected your identity as a refugee to your own form of activism? How can you connect your artistic activism to that of digital activism? What do you see that they have in common and what do you see that they don’t? Considering your art is available to see online do you think you have some sort of combination of digital and physically artistic activism?

It would be interesting to delve into the difference between non-verbal and verbal activism. Some forms of digital activism are rants online, journalistic articles, twitter posts, Facebook posts, etc. Some activism though includes photography and, in Fadia’s case, paintings. These examples of activism depend on visual stimulation and comprehension. I think this is a worthwhile concept and theme to investigate in our interview with Fadia, asking her about how her form of activism differs from verbal activism or how it can be coupled with verbal activism.

As a way to understand Fadia and her social justice work more, we’d like to ask her about her I Rise, her first exhibition in the US. I’d like to discuss with her if and how she gets her art to Syria or the Middle East as she is painting in the US. Does she feel a sense of safety being able to pain in the US? Does she share her work digitally as a way to bring her paintings and activism across to Syria?

Moreover, the purpose of our documentary is to display a different example of not only the experience of a Syrian refugee but the different forms of activism that exists in our contemporary world. Whether it be non-verbal or verbal, 2D or 3D, digital or on canvas, people figure out different ways to express their pain and experiences as a way to advocate for change. I hope that this documentary inspires people to open their minds to the lives of different refugees and the different forms and possibilities in being an activist, motivating people to experiment with their own forms of activism in diverse mediums.

What We Hope To Present

Through our short documentary on Fadia Afashe, we hope to present a personal story of a Syrian refugee living in the United States. Both an artist and an activist, Afashe will be a great subject who should provide valuable insight on the experience of being a refugee and on different methods of activism. Our final product will be a video roughly five minutes long that consists of a straightforward interview with Afashe intercut with footage of her art and life. In order to generate empathy for refugees, we hope to tell her personal story of fleeing Syria and coming to America. With Donald Trump currently spreading fear and hatred against immigrants, we hope that this mini-doc will provide a human story that will make people think about the United State’s role in accepting refugees.

Workflow

We plan on shooting in HD on a Canon 60D and recording sound on a Zoom H6 with a wireless lavaliere mic. We will record to SD cards and back-up our files on a hard drive. Then we will all sit down together and edit on Premiere Pro CC. We also plan on making background music since all three of us play instruments. We may use Logic Pro for recording music.

For the interview, our plan is to keep it very simple and use a black backdrop similar to this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gXGfngjmwLA

Inspiration: My Aleppo

http://melissalanger.com/films/#/my-aleppo/

The original inspiration for our project was the short film My Aleppo by Melissa Langer, a filmmaker currently studying in the documentary program at Stanford. In her documentary, Langer documents the day-to-day lives of a family of Syrian refugees living in South Africa. She captures incredibly personal and human moments that effectively communicate the pain that this family is going through. One aspect of the film that inspired me was that there were no “talking heads” like traditional documentaries, it was more like a series of portraits that depicted the family and their struggle. The personal connection that this film made me feel with the family made me care more about the Syrian crisis than any news report ever could. It was a great example of how human stories can move people more than hearing about things through news and statistics. My Aleppo would be a great film to screen in our class as it covers Syrian refugees and shows the effectiveness of the concept of show-not-tell. Our film will be more of a traditional documentary, consisting of an interview and shots of Afashe’s life and art. I would love to do something more personal but there simply is not time to build that level of trust with a subject.

Roles of Each Student

Kassandra Guitierrez: in charge of facilitating the interview with Fadia and producing the documentary, scheduling the interview with Fadia. In terms of the midterm assignment, Kassandra was in charge of the shooting plans and scheduling.

Shaina Goel: in charge of sound for the short documentary and also responsible for being in contact with Fadia in addition to developing questions for the interview upon research and preliminary discussions with Fadia. In terms of the midterm assignment, Shaina is in charge of sound and roles of students.

Johnny Rafter: camera operator/director for the short film. Depending on the time constraints, Kassandra, Shaina and Johnny will either create their own music for the short documentary or decide to contact music minors to collaborate with. In terms of the miderm assignment Johnny is in charge, as director, for the storyboard, shot list and overhead.

Each student typed 500 words for the 1500 word description compiled for the midterm assignment.

Kassandra

At the beginning of our thought process we really had a slim amount of options to turn to for a subject to our documentary story. I (Kassandra) started off with tweeting a couple of news reporters who had done similar news pieces on Syrian refugees, as well as researching any local resources which have been involved in donating or helping out with the refugee crisis. Meanwhile, Professor Sakr was able to suggest we try and get ahold of a couple of her good friends, a painter and an actor. After being able to get in contact, via email, with artist and painter Fadia Afashe, the hopes of our original documentary plan began to seem more real and the planning process began. First, we contacted Afashe asking if she would be interested in being the subject and story for our documentary. After her approval we were able to set up a time to talk over the phone.

My phone conversation with Afashe was very eye opening to the realism of the situation. The fact that she was a refugee who had left all her life behind in hopes of finding a safer living space was more emotionally overwhelming than anticipated. Although hopeful, you could hear in her responses that she has been distressed for a while, due to the lack of time she has been able to put into her art since her move to the United States. She mentioned to me that her art was the means through which she could fully express herself, but since being in America she has found the need to work more hours, which has resulted in very little free time causing her to not be able to find time to paint and express herself. That being said, we feel very fortunate to have the opportunity to meet with Fadia Afashe, as she takes time from her busy schedule for us to work on this project.

During our phone conversation we also agreed that this documentary would be an opportunity for her to share her story, and our group also saw the chance to make this an opportunity for her to express herself. Not only do we hope this becomes a moment in which Afashe is able to release her innermost struggle, but also an opportunity for us as humans to learn more about the own battles others face, and with that knowledge hopefully feel more compassion and connectivity with Syrian refugees.

After our phone conversation concluded, we had came to the agreement that we would meet this upcoming Friday to shoot the documentary. Due to classes, the original meeting time is set to be in the evening, however we are currently working to meet with her earlier in the day in hopes of catching better and more suitable lighting for our documentary theme and story line.

The process has been a learning experience, and also an opportunity to enhance skills I have had experience in, such as interviewing. Our group gave me the opportunity to work prominently on the interview, which will enrich me a whole new experience, as well as allow me to practice journalism.  I will also be working on finding music composers for the short documentary. There are many talented musicians within my music minor who are capable of taking on such task.

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Midterm

Reflections on After Tahrir Conference

EGYPTIAN INSURGENCY SHORT FILM FESTIVAL

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This was a powerful group of films. I felt that they effectively communicated the raw emotion and energy of the January 25 Revolution as well as raised important questions about the future.

For myself, the most impactful of the films were those made by Omar Robert Hamilton. The hand-held, point-of-view documentary style created a visceral, emotional depiction of the revolution that gave the audience a first-hand look at what it was like to be in Tahrir Square. The footage of the rocks being thrown and army vehicles running over protesters was hard to watch but also gripping.

Although not about Egypt, it would be awesome to watch the short documentary My Aleppo in class. I think it is a great example of how film can be used to raise awareness about crises.

 

ORGANIZED FOOTBALL FANDOM IN EGYPT

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Abd El Hameed’s analysis of the role of the Ultras soccer club in the January 25 Revolution made me consider the complexity of the revolution in regards to how many groups were involved. She argued that their struggle was political since the stadium in Cairo is a highly politicized space that is often used by political leaders.

The clubs brought organized chants and routines to the revolution, which helped in mobilizing people and lifting spirits. The group also creates an “imagined community” amongst its members and provides a social outlet and structure for young boys. It was interesting to learn that a non-politically oriented group had an important role in the revolution.

 QUESTIONS

Who are the revolutionaries in terms of all of Egypt? Where do the different groups fit in?

How are the Egyptian people confronting trauma caused silence together?

Reflections on After Tahrir Conference

Internet Mindfulness

freedom…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..
………………………………………………………………………………………………….short attention spans
scrutiny…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..
…………………………………………………………………………………………………..instant gratification
integrity………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….
……………………………………………………………………………………inability to read and think deeply
collaboration……………………………………………………………………………………………………………
………………………………………………………………………………………lack skills for long term vision
innovation……………………………………………………………………………………………………………….
……………………………………………………………………………………………………………….narcissism

“THE WIRED GENERATION”

These contrasting descriptions of the “wired generation” reveal that the internet is both a tool and a toy. It grants us access to an infinite source of useful information but also a never-ending library of cat videos. It enables us to communicate across physical and cultural boundaries but also waste copious amounts of time mindlessly browsing Reddit.

Our generation must be mindful of how we use our greatest tool. We can utilize the power of the internet to promote positive social and political change, or we can isolate ourselves from the world’s problems in a bubble of entertainment.

The internet is helping connect the world’s youth by allowing them to develop a global consciousness about their common interests, according to Linda Herrara in Youth and Citizenship in the Digital Age: a View from Egypt.

“Digital natives” like myself often find it frustrating, even humorous, when older people do not understand digital technology. This knowledge gap reveals how digital technology and the internet have drastically shaped the ways in which our generation thinks. We must be aware of the internet’s power over our thinking and cultivate the positive traits that it can help us develop, such as thinking globally and expanding our empathy.

“Does the wired generation possess the tools and know-how necessary to play a meaningful role in long-term democracy building and economic reform?” – Herrara

#NoMilTrials #NoSCAF #FuckSCAF

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These hashtags exemplify a positive use of the internet by the wired generation.

After the January 25 Revolution, year-end exams in Egyptian schools prompted students to write thank-you-letters to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF). This told students that nothing had really changed. Schools were still hierarchical systems that failed to promote democracy and free thinking. In response, students uploaded the prompt on Facebook and started a discussion on SCAF.

Social networking sites, like Facebook, give Egyptian youth a forum of discussion outside of the corrupt school systems, and a place to develop their own social and political consciousness.

 

PROJECT PROPOSAL:

Seek out Syrian refugees living in Los Angeles. Make a mini-doc that tells some of their stories. Simple interviews/testimonials of refugees sharing their stories. Could also be a multimedia story on a website that incorporates text, photos and video. Chance to generate empathy for refugees.

RESOURCES: Refugee Forum of LA (Facebook), International Rescue Committee in LA, Chris Jenkins: FAMST professor/documentarian extraordinary who has worked with refugees before.

 

Internet Mindfulness

The Power and Problems of WAAKS

While reading about the “We Are All Khaled Said” movement, what struck me most was the ways in which the movement failed. These included narrativizing a “two-dimensional” version of Said by failing to discuss the issues that he faced and that many of Egypt’s youth still face, which included drug abuse, poverty and low-quality education, just to name a few. Instead, Said was made out to be a martyr of police brutality and used to spearhead the movement against the Emergency Act.

“The Khaled Said of WAAKS represents the inclusive youth of the Egyptian revolution, while the other Khaled Said represents the exiled Egyptian,” write Amro Ali and Dina El-Sharnouby in Wired Citizenship.

WAAKS had the opportunity to use Said’s murder to open up a dialogue on multiple social issues that Egypt’s youth faces. WAAKS could have done this by focusing on the social problems that Said struggled with throughout his life. Instead, they polished his story in order to better position him as a martyr of the single issue of police brutality.

Victims like Said should be used to encourage public-thinking about the complex issues that societies face. One of digital activism’s biggest strengths is also one of its largest challenges. Internet-users have grown accustomed to neatly packaged, bite-sized bits of information. Part of the Internet’s power to mobilize individuals comes from users’ ability to instantly share easily-digestible information like tweets and status updates. Although problematic, WAAKS’s simplifying of Said’s story increased the power he granted them by giving the movement a more clear objective.

Would WAAKS have had the same power to mobilize people if it acknowledged the complexity of Said’s social problems instead of simplifying him into a martyr of police brutality?

In a reality that faces highly complex social issues, how can internet campaigns better address such complexities while still influencing people on large scale?

— Johnny Rafter

The Power and Problems of WAAKS