In the introduction to While the Earth Sleeps, Badr talks about the ‘forgotten middle’, “refugee youth who are preparing to take back their narratives, using storytelling on their own terms.” Nora Twomey’s animated film, based on a best-selling novel, follows Parvana, an 11-year-old girl growing up under the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2001. When her father is wrongfully arrested, Parvana dresses like a boy so she can support her family. She encounters a new world of freedom and danger, drawing strength from the fantastical stories she invents as she embarks on a quest to find her father and reunite her family.
Zera Qassari, a Syrian refugee, celebrates the link between poetry and hip hop, sharing her edgy, rhythmic poem Psycho in While the Earth Sleeps. This link has long played a role in shaping justice movements, as explored in BaddDDD Sonia Sanchez, who introduces herself with “I want to tell people how I became this woman with razor blades between her teeth.” A seminal figure in the Black Arts Movement of the 1960s, Sanchez has harnessed her gift for words as a champion against racism, sexism and war, fusing art and activism over the past six decades. As a pioneer of spoken word poetry, her influence on hip hop is fundamental – the film features appearances by Questlove, Mos Def, Ursula Rucker and more.
Several young refugees profiled in While the Earth Sleeps dream of becoming doctors and helping others by working in the field of healthcare. Mara, 8, asks to be called ‘Dr. Mara’ because she hopes to become a pediatrician someday, as does the energetic and intelligent Mayar, 12: “Maybe the world will talk about me.” Perhaps these childhood dreams echo those of the subjects of Bending the Arc, a documentary about an extraordinary team of doctors and activists whose work thirty years ago to save lives in a rural Haitian village grew into a global battle for the right to health for all. The community health model they developed to treat diseases like tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS has saved millions of lives in the developing world.
Solve Manson, an Iraqi refugee whose life has been imperiled by smugglers and the Mafia, finds solace in photography: “I wake up to photograph the sunrise. Photos for me are like medicine. I don’t want to sleep. Sometimes I go to the jungle to photograph. I like to take in the good energy there; it’s relaxing.” In Chasing Ice, acclaimed environmental photographer James Balog faces a different kind of peril. He heads to the Arctic on a challenging assignment for National Geographic: to capture images to help tell the story of the Earth's changing climate. Even with a scientific upbringing, Balog had been a skeptic about climate change. But that first trip north opened his eyes to the dangerous reality and sparked a challenge within him that would put his career and his well-being at risk: to change the tide of history by gathering undeniable evidence of our changing planet.
Lina Habazi’s bold poster design A Woman’s Voice Is a Revolution challenges expectations and misconceptions about Arab-American women. “A woman’s voice has the power to transform narratives… As an Arab-American, Muslim, hijabi woman, I am no stranger to stereotypes. Growing up, I have always needed to explain my identity and the reasons why I dress, speak, and believe the way I do because society generally has a distorted idea of who I am. By reclaiming my identity, I define it in a way that offers a true representation of myself.” Dalya’s Other Country follows the real-life challenges of a displaced Syrian teenager finding her voice and facing similar struggles. Dalya, the only Muslim at a private Catholic high school in Los Angeles, must straddle her two worlds while navigating her teenage years and her religious faith. She comes across as an ordinary Southern California teenager: she takes selfies, goes to prom, plays sports and hangs out at the mall. She is also the only student at her high school who wears a hijab. She and her family tackle complex experiences, including immigration, assimilation, divorce, and feminism, against the backdrop of mounting tensions surrounding America’s Muslim immigration policies.
Jameel Khan is an artist who uses a variety of styles in his vibrant paintings and drawings to communicate his experiences as a refugee, including time spent at various camps. In Hate, a sea of tents recedes into a hazy background while a hand is foregrounded ominously holding a lit match. The science fiction thriller District 9, inspired by events that took place in Cape Town, South Africa during the apartheid era, uses allegory to comment on the xenophobia that gives rise to social segregation and allows dehumanizing camps to thrive. In the film, aliens arrive on Earth to find refuge from their dying planet. Separated from humans in an area called District 9, the aliens are managed by Multi-National United, which is unconcerned with the aliens' welfare but will do anything to master their advanced technology. When a company field agent contracts a mysterious virus that begins to alter his DNA, there is only one place he can hide: District 9.
Karem Potela, a mother and storyteller from Venezuela, discusses her experience of being separated from her family: “[O]nly when I was calm, when I finally felt that I was safe, did I realize the immensity of what I had left behind. The most important thing that I left was the affection of the people I lived with, the experiences that made me who I am today.” The physical danger of border crossing and the pain of familial separation are among the most common themes explored throughout While the Earth Sleeps. In the animated film Flee, an Afghani refugee shares stories about his life’s journey that he’s never revealed before, describing the conditions that forced his family to escape their homeland, how he became separated from his siblings in Russia, and how he came of age as a gay man in northern Europe. He crosses borders physically, emotionally, and psychologically as he learns how to confront his past and build trust in new relationships. Despite the harrowing stakes, the film, co–executive produced and narrated by Riz Ahmed, finds moments of light and humor, reveling in the joys of pop culture, young romance, and acts of kindness.
Shared experiences with food can serve as powerful ties to culture and family histories. In While the Earth Sleeps, Lina Habazi paints her favorite Arab dish, maklouba, recalling it as one of her first associations with Palestinian culture. Abshir Habseme’s poem Canjeero (a common Somali breakfast dish, sourdough pancakes) provides a portrait of his hooyo (a Somali word for mom) as she wakes before dawn to make a meal for her children while reciting from the Quran. He reflects on the surprising complexity involved in preparing the fire to cook the dish: “She taught me how to cook with care and love. / I will never forget the first time I did it on my own.” Food: Delicious Science examines the physics, chemistry and biology involved in the foods we crave. The hosts travel the world as they deconstruct favorite meals, down to the molecular level.
This short film offers a glimpse into the life of an unhoused, undocumented fifteen-year old girl named Inocente who is a burgeoning artist in San Diego, and the extraordinary challenges she must contend with on a daily basis. One can imagine that Inocente and the artists profiled in While the Earth Sleeps would have a lot to discuss – she says, “I have a lot of impossible dreams. But I still dream them.”
Erwin Zareie, an Iranian refugee, talks about his experiences helping other refugees in Athens. His stories shed light on the importance of understanding a community you hope to help, as he shares his experiences about how well-meaning donors’ actions are sometimes harmful. “A lot of money is wasted because no one asks the people what they need… This is not the way to give aid.” The Last Tourist explores potential pitfalls of ‘voluntourism’, as well as other consequences of the worldwide tourism industry.
While the Earth Sleeps describes Istarlan Dafe as someone who “hates poetry – at least she thought she did.” With a distaste for the guidelines and rules she felt governed the artform, Istarlan viewed poetry as “an exclusive thing that only older people read and wrote.” Yet, once she realized that poems can be defined and shaped by poets rather than their audiences, she decided to give the medium a try and wrote about her lived experiences as a child growing up in a refugee camp in Somalia. Likewise, the subjects of Louder than a Bomb make sense of their turbulent young lives in Chicago via poetry. Four high school poetry teams prepare to compete in the world's largest youth slam. By turns hopeful and heartbreaking, the film captures their lives, exploring the ways writing shapes their world and vice versa.
Muslim filmmaker Deeyah Khan seeks to get to the heart of the Muslim experience in America, providing vivid insight into their experiences of alienation, rejection, and the daily struggles of keeping faith with both Islam and the American Dream. She meets the family of a Kansas farmer serving 30 years for an anti-Muslim bomb plot and a right-wing militia who believe in conspiracy theories that Muslims are trying to take over America. She films ordinary Muslims whose lives have been shattered by violence and intolerance. Deeyah profiles women who are campaigners and politicians (such as Ilhan Omar, who was among four women in the assembly told to ‘go back’ from where they came by President Trump, despite three of them being born in the U.S.) trying to combat a rising tide of hatred and advocate for their communities. These women would no doubt find resonance in the words of Khadija Mohamed, a Somali-American writer and community organizer, who presents the poem Naag iska dhig (“Act Like a Woman”) in While the Earth Sleeps:
"I carry the world’s love in my heart, / and I carry these fruits gracefully / Where did ‘throw like a woman’ come from? / As if we are weak, / as if every month we don’t battle ourselves / and clean up the blood, / Period. / As if we can’t be both gentle as ripples in a stream and electrifying as a thunderstorm."
When she isn’t writing or acting, Maryam, an Iraqi refugee, dreams of becoming an international soccer player. Iranian director Jafar Panihi, who has been banned from making films by his government, has spent years under house arrest because of the content of his films. Prior to his arrest, he was inspired to make the film Offside after his daughter dressed as a man and snuck into a stadium to watch a soccer game. (Since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, women have been banned from attending matches). This film weaves a story about gender politics with comedy, intelligence and defiance.
In A Tribute to Alan Kurdi, Ahmed Badr writes:
"The sun now embraces us in a new land. / We try to return the embrace, but we hear Aleppo’s song in the distance. / We hear / Baghdad’s poetry shake the ocean floor. / The cities are impatient for our return. / They speak of lost times, desperate journeys, and new worlds. / They tell us they have not forgotten. / They tell us the sun is in our hands and it’s our job to return it."
In The Return / El Regreso, 30-year-old Antonio returns to Costa Rica after living in New York for 10 years and is forced to deal with the dangerous and complex realities he’d escaped.
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What might face the young refugees profiled in While the Earth Sleeps once they reach their destinations? This is Home provides a window into the lives of four Syrian refugee families arriving in Baltimore, Maryland as they struggle to find their footing. They have eight months to forge ahead to "learn America" -- from how to take public transportation to negotiating gender roles -- and rebuild their lives in a new country.
Lina Habazi’s drawing Portrait of a Storyteller focuses on the senses involved in storytelling, showing the eyes, ear, and mouth of an elder. “As soon as our elders leave us,” she reflects, “their stories and knowledge leave with them… [W]hen we stop seeking out and telling stories, the life cycle of the storyteller is ended, and we lose the stories that span generations.” In The Tower, an animated film based on interviews with Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, an eleven-year-old Palestinian girl named Wardi lives with her extended family in the refugee camp where she was born. Her beloved great-grandfather Sidi was one of the first people to settle in the camp after being chased from his home in 1948. The day Sidi gives her the key to his old house back in Galilee, she fears he may have lost hope of someday going home. As she seeks to understand Sidi by talking with relatives around the camp, she collects testimonies, from one generation to the next.
A Nigerian musician known as O talks about the supportive community he’s surprised to have found while working with a church in Trinidad and Tobago, and the fear he experiences as he waits to learn the fate of his asylum application to remain in the country as a refugee. Unexpected connections and uncertainty are important themes in the feature film The Visitor as well. A professor is stunned to find an immigrant couple, Tarek and Zainab (played by Danai Gurira of Black Panther) living in his apartment, which was rented to them by a swindler. The professor invites them to stay, but Tarek is accused of a petty crime and lands in a detention center. Under threat of deportation, his friends and family struggle to support him.
Did you know that a refugee was one of the first to invent a videogame console? Ralph Baer was an engineer and inventor. He and his family came to the United States as German Jewish refugees in 1938 when Baer was sixteen years old. Over the course of his life, he was a passionate inventor of electronic games and toys. His inventions and over one-hundred and fifty U.S. and international patents have contributed to the advancement of military defense, television technology, video gaming, electronic toys, and other electronic consumer products. In the late 1960s, he and several colleagues developed the “Brown Box,” a prototype for the first multiplayer, multiprogram video game system. In 1972, Magnavox released the design as the Odyssey, paving the way for video game systems that followed.
Video games can explore themes related to the challenges refugees face.
Inside (PlayStation 4) is a puzzle-platformer that features a young boy who tries to penetrate deeper and deeper into a science facility where he’s definitely not welcome. Armed guards, drones and attack dogs are constantly tracking him -- the slightest misstep will lead to danger and death, a parallel with the situations faced by many of the refugees who share their attempts to cross borders in While the Earth Sleeps.
Journey (PlayStation 3) is an unusual game that continues to defy expectations more than 15 years after its release --forgoing conflict and competition, choosing emotional depth over violence. Players begin the game in a sweeping desert landscape littered with ruins. A brief cut scene hints at someone or something off in the distance, dominated by a huge mountain. The player encounters others at random, wordlessly traveling from discovery to discovery together. Jafal Osman, a refugee artist who shares his colored pencil drawings in While the Earth Sleeps, reflects: “People don’t have to speak your language; instead, you can communicate through art.” Journey also features the first video game soundtrack nominated for a Grammy, affirming the power of music as a narrative device.
These games are part of the Library’s console-based video game collection. Student and instructors may check out these and other games, from current to legacy consoles, or play them on site in the Film & Video area’s viewing and gaming carrels.