An award-winning drama starring a real-life former refugee seeks to spark discussion about children’s rights.
It is said that children suffer the most in times of war and conflict. The ensuing chaos leaves children vulnerable to physical, emotional and psychological trauma due to various reasons such as loss or separation from parents and daily exposure to chaotic conditions. Worst of all, families caught in war are forced to evacuate their homes and settle in refugee camps for an indefinite period of time.
According to The UN Refugee Agency, there are currently 68.5 million displaced people worldwide – and half of the estimated 25.4 million refugees are under the age of 18. The enormity of the situation is not lost on Lebanese filmmaker Nadine Labaki, director of Capernaum, set for release in UAE cinemas this week.
“Unfortunately when you live in Lebanon, this is a sight now that you see very, very often: children on the street where they are begging or selling gum or working or carrying heavy loads – loads that are sometimes triple their size,” she said during a sneak preview in New York.
“This is a sight that is becoming almost part of our everyday life in Lebanon, because of the refugee crisis and the fact that we’ve hosted over a million and a half refugees – and it’s almost half the population.”
While she was no stranger to witnessing child poverty, Nadine says the movie was also spurred on by a photo she saw of Alan Kurdi, the three-year-old Syrian refugee that was found lifeless on the beach in Turkey in 2015 after his family’s failed attempt to reach Greece using a rubber inflatable boat.
“When I saw this tiny little body, almost sleeping peacefully, I thought, if this child could talk, what would he tell us?” Nadine said. “How would he address the world and us, the adults that failed him? Because this is what we’re doing, we’re failing these children.”
It was these questions that inspired Capernaum, which tells the story of Zain El Hajj, a 12-year-old boy living in the slums of Beirut who sues his parents for giving him life. After Zain runs away from home, various flashbacks trace a series of events, including a plan by Zain to become a refugee in Sweden, that eventually lead to the courtroom drama.
For Nadine, telling the story from a child’s perspective was an integral part of conveying how children are suffering from the decisions made by the people who are supposed to look after their welfare.
Incidentally, the film’s lead actor, Zain Al Rafeea, is a Syrian refugee whose family used to live in one of the camps.
“Children make the most sense. And their point of view on the world is the purest. It’s less informed by society’s codes and politics. So I wanted to see the world and what’s happening in our world through their eyes,” Nadine explained.
“They’re paying the highest price for our fault, our decisions, our conflicts, our wars, our failing systems. They didn’t even ask to be here.
“Whether it’s a Syrian refugee child, or whether it’s a child that is being separated from his mother at the Mexican border, or a child working in India, or a Lebanese stateless child – a child is a child. And they are paying the highest price for what we’re doing.”
Through the film – which won the Jury Prize in the 2018 Cannes Film Festival and was nominated for numerous other accolades including a Golden Globe – Nadine is hoping to draw attention to the bigger issue of children’s rights: “The aim is to trigger discussion, then see how we can make real change on the ground. I truly believe a film can change perspectives. I believe in the power of cinema.”
Also starring: Yordanos Shiferaw, Boluwatife Bankole and Kawthar Al Haddad
An imaginative girl discovers a hidden amusement park named Wonderland and sets out to revive the place with the help of talking animals.
Better Start Running
A group of oddballs forms a family-like bond as they elude a duo of pesky FBI agents. Starring Jeremy Irons, Maria Bello and Analeigh Tipton.
The Hole in the Ground
After Sarah and her son Chris move to a new home in the countryside, Chris vanishes. When he reappears, his behaviour begins to change and Sarah worries this is not her son at all.
WORDS Ferdinand Godinez