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Syrian Teen's 9-Minute Doc Hits Cannes, Sundance, L.A. Film Fest

Khaldiya Jibawi dreams of being a documentary filmmaker.

And she's off to a great start.

The 18-year-old Syrian refugee made her first film in a refugee camp in Jordan, and it's been shown at Sundance, SXSW and the Cannes Film Festival, to name a few. This weekend, her documentary shows at the Los Angeles Film Festival.

It's called Another Kind of Girl — a phrase she uses to describe herself after filming gave her a new sense of courage.

Jibawi is just shy of her 19th birthday. She'll celebrate at the Zaatari Refugee Camp in Jordan. She and her family fled Syria in 2012 and have been living in the camp since then. She is one of nearly 80,000 refugees there.

Jibawi's documentary, which depicts her everyday life, was filmed on a handheld video camera. She helps her siblings with homework, listens to music on her bed and walks around the camp with her friends. But there are also moments of frustration and melancholy: A shot of her hand tracing dirt on a window pane, a dusty tarp flapping in the wind, a door slamming.

Another Kind of Girl is about 9 minutes long and was created with the help of a media workshop funded by the nonprofit , in collaboration with . The goal of the multimedia course was to offer teenage girls at the camp a chance to tell their own stories, according to workshop facilitator Laura Doggett.

I spoke with Jibawi about her film. When I reached her by phone, it was early evening in Jordan. She was watching TV, surrounded by a few of her younger siblings, their playful voices present in the background.

What surprised you most while you were filming your documentary?

Sometimes I was filming something and something else would happen unexpectedly. I won't have planned it but it will just happen. I love that. Like it was meant for me to film it.

This small camera can make so many beautiful moments. I get surprised by what I can capture. After I would film, I would sit down and look at the shots. I couldn't believe these would be the shots I took, and this little camera made it happen.

Before I started filming, I didn't really know the camp. From filming, I started to get to know people at the camp and see different stories. I saw a lot of problems, I saw a lot of accomplishments. A lot of times I would film something and be like, is this actually happening in the camp?

What were the workshops like? Did you become close with the other girls?

The classes made us feel like a group. We got close. But then when we stopped a lot of the girls got married. Or changed their numbers. So we couldn't stay in touch. Some are pregnant and about to give birth.

Do you think you will get married soon too?

Maybe, I don't know. Most of my friends got married at a young age, younger than 18. But I am turning 19 so I'm crossing the danger line.

According to our society I am still good but I don't want to get married now! I still want to live my life.

If you get married will you still film?

Yes, it's something I will always be interested in, even if I get married.

What does your future look like?

At the moment we are in Zaatari but you never know what fate has hidden. If the situation in Syria becomes better and it goes back to what it was, then hopefully [I can return].

We recently had the opportunity to leave camp to go to one of the countries in Europe but we wanted to stay in Jordan. You know it's nicer to stay close [to Syria], we understand the people and we got used to them, it would be difficult to move.

She filmed her friends going about their daily routine in the camp.
/ Courtesy of Another Kind of Girl
Courtesy of Another Kind of Girl
She filmed her friends going about their daily routine in the camp.

Does the camp feel like home to you?

We've been here for about four years and now it just feels like this is our country. This is our home right now. We are very happy and comfortable.

I know that the situation isn't the best but it's better than most.

What do you miss the most about Syria?

The things I miss the most are the days when we were in school. My friends and I would run from school and go to my house to get sandwiches and then come back real quick before the break was over.

I also miss going to my grandfather's place to visit. My uncles would always spoil me. I really miss those moments.

Do you feel like a normal teenager?

I used to feel like a teenager but now I'm older. I used to be very active and hyper, now I'm well-behaved. Kind of.

Why's that?

I have to be. I couldn't live my childhood. I was denied a lot of the things that I love because of my responsibilities I had.

Are you in school right now?

I left school a long time ago. I studied until ninth grade and then I retired.


First of all, my life at home was really difficult I couldn't concentrate on my studying. Second, my mom started to work so the responsibility of the house was all on me and I just couldn't concentrate on my studies.

My mom also didn't really want me to finish my studies and a lot of the times I would hear her saying "do you have to finish?" It was just easier for me to leave [school] and take care of things at home.

Khaldiya, what are your fears?

The thing that scares me is losing those I love the most.

I am afraid of a lot of things. I am afraid for Syria and its future because of this generation of kids being raised in the camps.

They might not turn out great because they are being raised in the camp environment. I am afraid they might turn out to be homeless or corrupt. You can already see it happening in the camp. They are becoming very negative and people are taking advantage of this, taking advantage of the children. I am afraid for their future because they will be the ones to build up Syria again.

It must be strange to know that people are watching your film all over the world. Complete strangers. What would you say to them?

That when they want to judge something, don't judge it from their own perspective. They should study the subject and look deeper.

People have a certain perspective about the camps, and I want them not to underestimate people. People shouldn't underestimate us because who knows what we can be capable of accomplishing.

Answers translated from Arabic by workshop facilitator Tasneem Toghoj and NPR's Noor Wazwaz

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.