Arts

This new mentorship program is going to turn six Syrian refugees into filmmakers

The Syrian Youth Filmmentor program will offer workshops — all available in Arabic — every Saturday for eight consecutive weeks.

Applications for the Toronto-based program are due September 16th

Participants in LIFT’s 2014 Filmmentor Program. (Renata Mohamed)

This fall, six young Syrian newcomers will become budding filmmakers. The Liaison of Independent Filmmakers of Toronto (LIFT) currently has a call for applicants for their Syrian Youth Filmmentor program, which will offer workshops — all available in Arabic — every Saturday for eight consecutive weeks. Topics will include "Introduction to Filmmaking," "Short Film Writing," "Directing," "Cinematography" and "Editing," and each participant will ultimately have the opportunity to make their own short film.

LIFT has been running a variety of educational initiatives over the past several years — for youth, for women filmmakers, for Spanish-speaking artists, for artists with disabilities and artists who are deaf. The organization thought they could adapt these formats to do their part to support the Syrian relief effort and expand their community further by teaching their first workshops in Arabic.

"The Syrian Youth Filmmentor workshops are designed to teach young Syrian newcomers the basics of filmmaking with the goal of giving these six students the basic tools of self-representation in our vibrant media landscape," executive director Chris Kennedy explains. "By the end of the program each student will have made a short film!"

The idea for the program came about when funding was announced through the Welcome to the Arts initiative, which support eligible arts organizations that wish to provide free admission to recent Syrian refugees "to a performance, exhibition or arts event in their communities."

Teenagers today have access to a lot of media-making tools today, but this program is designed to give new members of our community a leg up in learning the possibilities of self-expression and the way to direct this creativity towards an audience.- Chris Kennedy

Kennedy says Welcome to the Arts inspired LIFT to "develop a streamlined and workable project" that they hope will serve youth well, with their philosophy being "the best way to become part of the arts is to make it yourself."

"We were inspired in part by a project led by Beirut DC called Seeing the Self, which worked with Syrian youth in Lebanon to make an amazing collection of video projects," Kennedy says. "We developed the project with a former participant of a previous mentorship program, Rolla Tahir, who has since run similar projects with newcomer youth and who has built ties within the Syrian Canadian community."

LIFT's program is open to Syrian refugees between the ages of 15 and 19 years old. Applicants also must live in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), within commuting distance from the city in order to access LIFT workshops and equipment. LIFT encourages applicants who have not had previous training in film or extensive experience working with the medium to apply.

Kennedy says he hopes participants in the program will build a self-reliance around media making, learning basic skills that will demystify the process of creating films and videos.

"Teenagers today have access to a lot of media-making tools today," he says, "but this program is designed to give new members of our community a leg up in learning the possibilities of self-expression and the way to direct this creativity towards an audience."

Applications are due September 16th. For more information — including instructions in Arabic — visit the LIFT website.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Peter Knegt (he/him) has worked for CBC Arts since 2016, writing the LGBTQ-culture column Queeries (winner of the 2019 Digital Publishing Award for best digital column in Canada) and spearheading the launch and production of series Canada's a Drag, variety special Queer Pride Inside, and interactive projects Superqueeroes and The 2020s: The Decade Canadian Artists Stopped Saying Sorry. Collectively, these projects have won Knegt four Canadian Screen Awards. Beyond CBC, Knegt is also the filmmaker of numerous short films and the author of the book About Canada: Queer Rights. You can follow him on Instagram and Twitter with the same obvious handle: @peterknegt.

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