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Egyptian-Jordanian Director Wins 'Best Documentary' at Canadian Film Fest for Her Work with Refugees

Faten AlFaraj's film, 'Life Jackets', won 'Best Documentary' at the Canadian International Faith and Family Film Festival for exploring the refugee crisis in Greece and highlighting the educational needs of its children.

life jacket
"When you're competing against fourteen films with big names attached to them, all of which focus on important stories, and you're competing in a North American film festival with a story that's mainly about the Middle East, you wouldn't expect them to give it a lot of attention," Faten AlFaraj, director and producer of 'Life Jacket', tells CairoScene. Her film - which follows a child at a refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesvos - won 'Best Documentary' at the Canadian International Faith and Family Film Festival (CIFF). It had gone up against such contenders as 'Volendam' and 'Burning Ember: The Steve Bell Journey' - films that explore content much more familiar with Western audiences. Just being nominated was a big deal to AlFaraj, who - as a Canadian citizen who is half-Egyptian, half-Jordanian - appreciated any amount of exposure that stories from the Middle East could garner on an international stage. So actually winning the award had come as an overwhelming surprise.

"You feel honoured, like your hard work paid off," AlFaraj says. But to her, the honour wasn't just about the prize itself. Shot in 2018 during Greece's refugee crisis, filming 'Life Jacket' had been a challenging ordeal. Cameras were not allowed inside the refugee camp, so AlFaraj had to draw people outside in order to listen to them. "When I meet them and say 'marhaban', it's like a miracle happened, someone finally speaks their language," AlFaraj recalls. "They were tired, they were down, they were desperate. Sometimes they would break into tears sharing humiliating stories... I always tell them that I'm not sure if I can make a difference, but that I hope to by sharing your voice with people who could."

AlFaraj created the documentary in association with Beyond Borders and TeachBeyond, a Canadian organisation dedicated to providing refugee children with a stable education. By exploring the dire conditions in which children are forced to grow up in the camps, the documentary hopes to raise awareness of their strife and their needs.


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