The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.
– Marcel Proust, French novelist
“Another Kind of Girl,” directed by Khaldiya Jibawi – which is a pseudonym to protect her identity – could not have been released at a more relevant time amid media attention on the Syrian refugee crisis and the hot-button topic of immigration. In this short film, an official selection of LUNAFEST Film Festival for 2016/2017, “a 17-year-old girl meditates on how her refugee camp (in Jordan) has opened up new horizons and given her a sense of courage that she lacked in Syria (her homeland).” The film was made in a workshop for teenaged girls run by Laura Doggett, a community artist and educator on a post-graduate fellowship from Duke University in 2014.
As a Felsman Documentary Fellow, Laura was paired with a Public Policy Fellow to conduct research for two months on girls’ access to education in Jordan – in Za’atari Refugee Camp. For her part, she was tasked with making a film. There was little time to do research on the topic before her arrival, but nevertheless Laura immersed herself in her new environment by giving the girls she was working with the opportunity to teach her through their perspective. “My natural instinct is to give them cameras,” she explained, of her teaching strategy but also her introduction to a new culture through her students.
Another kind of workshop
In her first workshop at the refugee camp, Laura and her translator and co-facilitator, Tasneem, taught photography to 20 girls, although two of them were more interested in video. When she returned later in the year (2015) through the International Rescue Committee, she worked in her preferred medium of video with five teenaged girls in Jordan’s northern city of Irbid. The camera became a way for the girls to develop a visual language to express their inner and outer worlds, according to Laura. “Since the first round of workshops, the girls expressed a desire to acquire deeper knowledge of the technical and artistic means to tell their community’s stories, as well as have a supportive community through which they can continue to create more work,” she explained. “From this desire grew the Another Kind of Girl Collective, an arts collective with their female peers that supports further learning, artistic production and social engagement.” As their producer, Laura entered their seven films in various youth film festivals around the world.
To date, international festivals, such as Sundance, Cannes, and SXSW, have screened the films. Conferences focused on the refugee crisis, including the EU Conference on Women Refugees and Asylum Seekers, have showcased their films. The New York Times and National Public Radio’s Morning Edition, among other media outlets, have featured their works. The young women have also won numerous awards, which have included prizes such as a camera and computer, which the individual recipients have shared with the others in the Collective.
Khaldiya fled from her hometown of Dara’a four years ago after Syria’s civil war broke out and now lives in Za’atari Refugee Camp. In a post from the Another Kind of Girl Collective website, she explained what filmmaking brought to her life: “In Syria, I didn’t even know how to hold a cell phone and film. Here I fell in love with filming. When I film I just feel at ease. It never crossed my mind that I would become a filmmaker, but when we took the course, I had it in my head that I wanted to be a filmmaker. When I film, I feel like I am someone very important.” Khaldiya wants to take become a leader in continuing the workshops – helping other girls in the camp to give voice to their stories through the arts and to drive change in her community through storytelling. In the meantime, Khaldiya is awaiting Laura’s arrival this month, so that Laura can attend her wedding. Laura keeps in touch with the young women from the workshops, and shared that a few of them have married “amazing” husbands who have supported their wives’ artistic endeavors. Khalidiya’s husband-to-be, too, supports her dreams.
Laura and Tasneem began the second round of workshops in November and December 2016, and will return this month to work with them on editing skills. “The workshop gives them a space where they continually create and and speak about being aware that they are providing something really valuable for their community – a collective of passionate, creative, vocal, compassionate, civic-minded young women – and to the world – a new perspective on the lives of refugees,” she said, of the young women. “They are looking for ways to make their day-to-day lives meaningful.”
The power of storytelling
Laura has been helping young people – mostly young women – tell their stories and thus become empowered through creative expression for more than two decades. “I’ve always loved stories,” she noted, citing her father as “the first master storyteller in my life.” Laura, who earned her BA in English, Creative Writing, from Wesleyan University, was also inspired by Eudora Welty, the Pulitzer Prize-winning American short story writer and novelist. In a 2013 profile, Laura said of Welty, who wrote about the American South, “She made me want to write characters and stories just like hers, but before she even made me want to write, she made me want to observe.” The power of observation serves the artist well, but it also can inspire greater understanding of and compassion for communities outside of our own.
As an intern for the public radio documentary show, This American Life, Laura worked on a piece about Mexican-American teenagers and cruising. When she returned to her hometown of Washington, D.C., she ran a youth radio program. Laura spent many years in Appalachia, first directing a program in Kentucky called the Appalachian Media Institute, which trained young people to create documentaries about their own communities, and then later doing the same at High Rocks, a girls’ leadership organization in West Virginia. Laura worked with them to express themselves through media, particularly photography, video, and creative writing.
After her experiences in these various experiences, she decided to go back to school and earned her MFA in Experimental and Documentary Arts from Duke University. “It was an opportunity to continue to do storytelling with girls and young women, but to develop a more personal style of collaborating with them in ways that responded to individually their artistic voice and strengths, and the multitude of ways they chose to articulate their visions for themselves,” she said. In between the workshops in Jordan, as a Lewis Hine Fellow, Laura worked with young women aging out of the foster care system in the Bronx.
Nurturing Another Kind of Girl Collective
Laura’s visit to Jordan this month won’t be her last. She’s hoping to secure more funding to continue conducting workshops in Jordan, as well as to find the next community to share her passion for storytelling and to create more opportunities for young women to be heard and become empowered through film. Thus far, she’s been “running to keep up with the project,” but at some point she wants to take time out to strategize with the members of the Another Kind of Girl Collective. “The next step is to move towards making it self-sustainable, where they can continue to create media on their own, learn the various platforms and venues to share their stories and create dialogue, and then ideally also earn income for their media pieces,” she explained. She’s hoping that the women can build on their skills, get their own media out into the market, and create a successful business.
“My desire for the films is what the girls’ desires are for their films as they’re being shown around the world,” Laura said, speaking as the Collective’s creative director. “They are smart, creative young women who have a unique perspective and a lot to say They are not passive or tragic beings, as mainstream media often present them. They are very vocal about wanting to be understood and heard as hard-working, motivated, creative visionaries. They also want their stories to encourage other girls and young women in difficult circumstances to express their most important stories.” Laura shared the sentiments of one young woman in the Collective, Walaa: “It’s important for girls to bring things from inside to the outside. Writing and filmmaking helped me not be afraid to tell my story. I hope that each young woman is able to express her inner-self directly and indirectly, and that she can just break the world. It doesn’t matter, just break it all over the place.…” Such passion and conviction are testaments to the value of artistic expression Laura has brought to these young women and our communities.
Note: You can see Laura’s short film at LUNAFEST East Bay’s screening on Saturday, March 18th, 7:30pm, at the El Cerrito High School’s Performing Arts Theater. For more information, click here.