It is Wednesday, April 17, 2013, and my first time on this trip talking to students who are not filmmakers or college age. Over the last few days I’ve had an opportunity to have in depth discussions with film students at the Royal Film Commission and at the ASE Institute (Audio Sound Engineering Studio) and with college students at the American University of Madaba. But today, I got to meet with young kids between the ages of 10-16 years old at the Princess Basma Center in Hashemi in Amman.
The center has a fantastic clubhouse that is partly sponsored by Intel, so these young kids get a chance to work on projects after school in state of the art computers, including animation, filmmaking and graphic design. They can also work on music projects in a small recording studio.
The best part of the afternoon was seeing the short documentaries they wrote, produced, edited and directed and get a chance to give them some feedback and more importantly, positive reinforcement. Their documentaries were simple and short but they all had a message – something I rarely see when viewing short films from young kids back home. These kids seem to be keenly aware of what is happening around the world and the enormous challenges that this country and the region face on a daily basis. So, we weren’t looking at funny or silly little movies that seem to prevail on YouTube, we saw short films dealing with the struggle for peace, and national pride.
We also got a chance to help one of the girls who was struggling with the script for her short film. Her subject matter was about the choice that some women make not to wear a hijab, and how that choice can be a difficult one – they can be shunned, mocked and even made to feel less committed to Islam than those who do wear a hijab. Hopefully we were able to offer her some solutions to her story.
And, it was the perfect way to end the afternoon because it prepared me to see Laura Nix’s (and Julia Meltzer’s) film, The Light In Her Eyes. This film is about a woman in Syria who has a school that teaches young girls, not only the teachings of the Qur’an but also how to memorize the entire text. Part of the film dealt with the choice each Muslim girl eventually has to make about whether or not they will wear the hijab (headscarf). The teacher at the school did make it clear that it is a choice, but it continues to be a contentious subject matter throughout the Middle East and in Muslim countries around the world.
I really appreciated the film, because it introduced me to the world of Islam from a women’s perspective – not something we often see. And even though at times I was frustrated by some of the things that were being said in the film, I had to remind myself that just because I disagree with a religious point of view, it doesn’t mean that that point of view is not valid.
After the screening, a mother in the audience revealed during the Q&A that her daughters had all been students of this teacher in the film, and then PROUDLY said, “This teacher made my daughters ‘State of the Art Housewives’.”
I must admit, at first I was flabbergasted by her statement and full of judgment. But later that night, as I went back to my hotel room and thought about what she had said, I had to remind myself that I too was born and raised in a religion (the LDS Church – Mormons) that believes that the role of women is first and foremost to be a good mother and a good wife – that “the role of the woman is in the home.” And I too was taught how to be a “State of the Art Housewife” – with crocheting, quilting, canning and cooking lessons at Homemaking Evenings in the Church.
And even though LDS women don’t have to make a choice as to whether or not they will wear a hijab, they do eventually have to wear undergarments that require them to dress modestly. So from a very young age they are encouraged not to wear any short shorts or mini skirts, or any sleeveless blouses or dresses that would reveal those undergarments that the Church and its members consider sacred.
So at the end of this enlightening day, I had to ask myself, “Are we really that different after all?” And the answer for me is: maybe not…
That’s the power of films – they can force you to ask questions, reconsider a point of view, or look at the commonalities that exist between us, so that hopefully there can be more understanding and less judgment.