Zaatari: Through the Lens explores the refugee experience from the perspective of three teenage boys living in the Zaatari refugee camp. Old enough to remember life in Syria before the war, they struggle with painful memories and post traumatic stress. They are also at a precarious age; as young Muslim men they face potential recruitment attempts by extremist groups, while also being viewed with fear and skepticism by much of the outside world. The reality is that they are just teenagers, young men with dreams and goals for their lives, who want nothing to do with war or violence, who desire to see the world outside the fences of their refugee camp, and who struggle to understand why so many people in the world fear and judge them. These three young men have found a way to cope with the pain of what they’ve been through, thanks to a small photography workshop run by Mohammed Khalaf, a Syrian refugee and photographer who has taken it upon himself to share his one camera and his skills with dozens of children in the camp. Khalaf believes that creative expression can serve as a lifeline for those who suffer from the loss of heritage and home. For children who have endured the trauma of war and have been uprooted and separated from all they know, it is even more necessary.
The film will follow Qassem, 19, who arrived at Zaatari three years ago with nothing but the clothes on his back, nearly starving and dehydrated. Unable to continue his education, he fell in with a group of violent, angry young teenagers before finding Mohammed’s workshop. For Qasem, photography began as a way to deal with the excruciating monotony of life in the camp and to stay out of trouble. It has now become his passion and means of positive self-expression. Ali, 18, was an honor student back in Syria with dreams of playing professional football like his father, until the war threw his life into chaos. For Ali, photography is a way to capture the whole truth of what life is like for refugees. He feels that refugees are not accurately portrayed in the media and wants to show another side of the Syrian people; one of resilience and hope. Yusuf, 17, was a studious young man whose dream was to attend university and become a doctor, until the war forced his family out of Syria. For Yousef, photography is a way to explore a sometimes dangerous camp and interact with people that he would otherwise be too shy to approach. When the sun sets, he hikes up to the top of the biggest hill in Zaatari to photograph the stars and moon, and dreams about a peaceful life somewhere far from the civil war that has forced him into a refugee camp.