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Beekeeper Novel & Documentary

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As always, documentaries feature the view of the author or filmmaker in telling the story. Just World Educational feels the situation in east Aleppo from 2012 – 2016 may not have been depicted as difficult and ugly as it was. https://justworldeducational.org/2020/02/a-beautiful-but-deceptive-documentary-for-sama/

This is Mike Strong, in Hays, for HPPR. The book is “The Beekeeper of Aleppo” by Christy Lefteri.

As much as Christy Lefteri gives us word pictures in her search to let us see the world of refugees, there are sometimes worthy companion media. In this case, a documentary, which was actually my impetus to write about “The Beekeeper of Aleppo.”

I had seen “For Sama” by Waad Al-Kateab, a couple of years before I encountered Christy Lefteri’s book. “For Sama” comes out of a young woman’s personal story as she documented herself and the people and events around her from the start of the Syrian civil war.

She has won numerous awards, deservedly. This also aired as a Frontline documentary in 2019. I was, in turn, pointed to “For Sama” by a contemporaneous documentary about escaping conflict in Afghanistan which was done entirely on three cellphones, “Midnight Traveler,” by filmmaker Hassan Fazili.

Fazili, a mullah’s son was a wanted man because of a documentary about a Taliban leader. He and his wife Fatima escape with their two young daughters, Nargis and Zahra, traveling some 3500 miles of terrain, bureaucrats, smugglers and even right-wing Bulgarians who throw rocks at them.

“For Sama” is done using video recordings from phones her DSLR (Digital Single-Lens Reflex). Often you can see Waad with her DSLR, recording scenes.

Both Waad and Hassan’s documentaries are witnesses from within. They film what they see. What they can see comes from their experience. The more direct the experience, the better they see. The more they understand.

When working as a photographer, I’ve long had a rule that the most important photographic skill is subject knowledge. Many years ago, I had one of those “aha moments” when, after taking a beginning set of tap lessons, hoping to learn a few steps, I found that I had absorbed something more important and far more useful. Suddenly (or so it seemed) I was hearing the sounds of tap where before I had just heard clunking and I was seeing the actions of tap where before I had just seen swishing movements. It wasn’t the steps that were important. I also found myself listening rather than looking, shooting in the music.

The embodied training had reshaped my sensory system. I had not expected that. Suddenly my dance pictures picked up on nuance I had previously passed over. And I was already pretty good, especially as a social dancer, but now I paid attention in new ways. I could “see dance,” other dance, where before I merely looked at dance. As do most photographers who view dance as decoration.

I make the point, because, as a journalist, I am painfully aware of how much of journalism’s concept of “subject knowledge” is “parachute journalism.” Look up other stories, research in libraries and watch videos.

When I had my “aha moment” in dance I not only realized that my sensory system had upgraded but I had a distinct awareness that I could have watched all the videos in the world on dance without getting the sense, the ability to see because I learned by doing, “embodied learning.”

In the same way, I can see that Christy Lefteri, through her work directly with refugees in Athens in 2016 and then in 2017, writes from an insider’s view. Her volunteer work also allowed her to interview and learn from the refugees themselves. And her experiential narrative, often disorienting, on purpose, helps us bridge the distance into the refugee experience.

Lefteri’s writing and structure is designed to mimic a sense of the refugee experience in the reader. The plight of Nuri and Afra and Nuri’s cousin Mustafa are subject to the buffeting of real waves and bureaucratic waves as they are never certain whether they’ve reached the refuge they need.

This is Mike Strong, in Hays, for HPPR Radio Readers Book Club.

Selected References (additional references available upon request):

“Midnight Traveler” Is a Harrowing Document of a Family’s Escape. The documentary doesn’t preclude itself from finding something like poetry in its subjects’ struggles. by Pat Brown September 16, 2019 https://www.slantmagazine.com/film/review-midnight-traveler-is-a-harrowing-document-of-a-familys-escape/

https://www.pbs.org/pov/films/midnighttraveler/

https://video.kansascitypbs.org/video/trailer-midnight-traveler/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Midnight_Traveler

https://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/midnight-traveler-2019

https://www.pbs.org/pov/pressroom/pov-midnight-traveler-film-update/

Film Update

In January 2020, POV asked Midnight Traveler filmmaker Hassan Fazili what's happened since the cameras stopped rolling. Where is your family now? [Status change since film] Have you found asylum in Europe?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7QVmXX62_H0 Hiba's Story: Ten-Year-Old Syrian Refugee | UNICEF USA

A Beautiful Animation of a Harrowing Story - BBC NEWS - 91,832 views Oct 25, 2013 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B0HWYcFlY-8 The BBC's Newsnight program spoke to a family from Damascus who were thrown into the sea when a boat crowded with refugees capsized after being riddled with bullets off the Libyan coast.

Refugees: The Shared Story of Harry and Ahmed https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=APWyeCuvk5Q This 125-second film presents the stories of Ahmed, 12, from Damascus in Syria, and Harry, 92, from Berlin, Germany.

For Sama (full documentary) | FRONTLINE - Aleppo https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8jFHbo0Cgu8 https://video.kansascitypbs.org/video/sama-theatrical-version-dgbhlm/

https://www.actionforsama.com/waad-alkateab

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Spring Read 2023: In Touch with the World 2023 Spring ReadHPPR Radio Readers Book Club
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