Two Guys Are Making The World A More Knowledgeable Place One Month At A Time

Documentary filmmakers Zach Ingrasci and Chris Temple spent a month living on the Za'taari refugee camp in Jordan. Zach and Chris share a little how their life and neighbors were (and still is right now for about 140,000 Syrians) in photographs below.

January 24, 2014

Za'atari refugee camp entrance


"In an effort to better understand refugee life, we spent one month this winter living alongside displaced families in the Za’atari refugee camp. As the first filmmakers ever allowed by the United Nations to be given a tent and registered inside a refugee camp, we were able to get a never before seen look into the world’s most pressing crisis.

Our experience uncovered overwhelming trauma but also the untapped potential our uprooted neighbors posses. With the right programs we can support healing, ease the burden on host countries and even empower the disenfranchised by unleashing people’s creativity."

Registration for camp through UNHCR (The United Nations Refugee Agency) and the Jordanian government

"...[W]e are provided with a UNHCR tent, 4 mattress pads, 8 blankets, a bucket, an aluminum pot, a gas heater (but no gas), a hygiene kit (soap, toothbrushes, detergent), a bread voucher, ration card, ID card, and a welcome meal (complete with Fig Newtons!). They also offer additional clothes and a second meal to those who choose. The supplies strike us as well-thought-out and, thanks to the generosity of donors, much better than what NGOs could provide when the camp first opened."

February 3, 2014

"Inside [Um Ali's] caravan, one wall is completely covered by Arabic writing. Even without knowing what it says, it’s striking to look at. We ask her about the wall and Um Ali tells us that when she first came to Za’atari she knew no one and was deeply depressed. She had lost a son, her home and everything she once knew and loved back in Syria ... she began to write everything she remembered on the wall.

At the market one day [Um Ali] walked through the gates of the women’s center ... a women’s group was taking place where they were sharing stories very similar to hers. She came back the next day and shared her own story."

"Um Ali thrived at the women’s center and was eventually hired to teach women the countless arts and crafts she had mastered back in Syria. This was the first job she had ever held and she became an important provider for her family. We ask if she likes to work, and she proudly tells us, 'In Syria, working wasn’t necessary so it never crossed my mind that I would enjoy it.'"

February 6, 2014

Ziyad is an artist who built, among other things, a fountain, by repurposing aid items.

"He built a bedroom for his kids, fashioned a bread oven, planted a garden, pieced together a storefront and is in the process of adding a private bathroom and cement patio to his caravan." (above)

February 13, 2014

Ra’ouf, a 10-year-old neighbor, and Zach and Chris make tea.

"Children under the age of 18 make up over 50% of the 95,000 current residents in Za’atari refugee camp. This statistic is very apparent; kids are everywhere in Za’atari. They freely roam in small packs doing what all young kids do when they get together. Only 20,000 of the children in Za’atari are enrolled in school and only about 11,000 consistently attend classes.

We find out, however, that Ra’ouf does regularly go to what he calls 'the nursery,' his name for one of Save the Children’s 'Child-Friendly Spaces.' Here Ra’ouf can play soccer, draw, and do a number of other activities with other kids ages 5 to 17. There are two of these spaces in District 5 alone so it isn’t as crowded as the schools and Ra’ouf says it is a fun place to go."

10-year-old Ra’ouf

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Disney has come under fire for problematic portrayals of non-white and non-western cultures in many of its older movies. They aren't the only one, of course, but since their movies are an iconic part of most American kids' childhoods, Disney's messaging holds a lot of power.

Fortunately, that power can be used for good, and Disney can serve as an example to other companies if they learn from their mistakes, account for their misdeeds, and do the right thing going forward. Without getting too many hopes up, it appears that the entertainment giant may have actually done just that with the new Frozen II film.

According to NOW Toronto, the producers of Frozen II have entered into a contract with the Sámi people—the Indigenous people of the Scandinavian regions—to ensure that they portray the culture with respect.

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Though there was not a direct portrayal of the Sámi in the first Frozen movie, the choral chant that opens the film was inspired by an ancient Sámi vocal tradition. In addition, the clothing worn by Kristoff closely resembled what a Sámi reindeer herder would wear. The inclusion of these elements of Sámi culture with no context or acknowledgement sparked conversations about cultural appropriation and erasure on social media.

Frozen II features Indigenous culture much more directly, and even addressed the issue of Indigenous erasure. Filmmakers Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck, along with producer Peter Del Vecho, consulted with experts on how to do that respectfully—the experts, of course, being the Sámi people themselves.

Sámi leaders met with Disney producer Peter Del Vecho in September 2019.Sámediggi Sametinget/Flickr

The Sámi parliaments of Norway, Sweden and Finland, and the non-governmental Saami Council reached out to the filmmakers when they found out their culture would be highlighted in the film. They formed a Sámi expert advisory group, called Verddet, to assist filmmakers in with how to accurately and respectfully portray Sámi culture, history, and society.

In a contract signed by Walt Disney Animation Studios and Sámi leaders, the Sámi stated their position that "their collective and individual culture, including aesthetic elements, music, language, stories, histories, and other traditional cultural expressions are property that belong to the Sámi," and "that to adequately respect the rights that the Sámi have to and in their culture, it is necessary to ensure sensitivity, allow for free, prior, and informed consent, and ensure that adequate benefit sharing is employed."

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Disney agreed to work with the advisory group, to produce a version of Frozen II in one Sámi language, as well as to "pursue cross-learning opportunities" and "arrange for contributions back to the Sámi society."

Anne Lájla Utsi, managing director at the International Sámi Film Institute, was part of the Verddet advisory group. She told NOW, "This is a good example of how a big, international company like Disney acknowledges the fact that we own our own culture and stories. It hasn't happened before."

"Disney's team really wanted to make it right," said Utsi. "They didn't want to make any mistakes or hurt anybody. We felt that they took it seriously. And the film shows that. We in Verddet are truly proud of this collaboration."

Sounds like you've done well this time, Disney. Let's hope such cultural sensitivity and collaboration continues, and that other filmmakers and production companies will follow suit.

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