By Liz Warren

Last spring I interned for Righteous Pictures (RP) a film and new media production company that operates with two arms: content creation, which includes the creation and production of both feature and short films, and content engagement to enhance the overall impact of film projects.

Much of my work was spent on the engagement side with a campaign for the Iraqi Refugee Assistance Project’s short documentary series. Narrated by Iraqis, each film depicts individual tales of honesty, bravery, and desperation. They evoke disturbing emotions. But for me, they also humanize the Iraqi refugee situation and quash my apathy. These people, persecuted because politics, religion, sexual orientation, or any number of unjust reasons, want what anyone wants: a safe home, access to food, water, medical care, and the opportunity to pursue a peaceful fulfilling life.

Here is an example of one of the videos which features a family that fled Iraq to seek treatment for their disabled son who was hit by a terrorist car bomb blinding him in one eye and for their daughter who carries a rare kidney disease.

About the Video

Goal: IRAP, a group of law students and attorneys helping refugees navigate resettlement processes, produced this series of 6 videos to raise public awareness of Iraqi refugees’ plight and to increase the organization’s donor base. The safety of Iraqi refugees, people who provided aid and translation assistance to American intelligence and foreign media, the LGBT community, women forced into sex trafficking, religious minorities, and disabled children and adults, worsens as war and sectarian violence penetrate the region.

These people are often stateless and stranded in equally dangerous surrounding Middle Eastern countries like Syria, yet process to gain admittance into the limited number of western countries is slow and difficult to navigate without a legal background. Operating on a small mostly pro-bono budget, IRAP has successfully relocated over 1000 refugees to western countries and started chapters at 15 different law schools in the United States and one in Jordan. These videos are part of a campaign to sustain public and government attention and to increase IRAP’s outreach efforts.

Distribution Strategy: The distribution strategy pairs films with articles published in magazines and blogs. The videos also draw in a steady flow of viewers via IRAP’s website and presence on Facebook and YouTube.

IRAP’s campaign began with the launch of a video that became so widely viewed it had to be taken down within the first few days. The short documentary featured Ahmed: an Iraqi LGBT individual who with the help of IRAP now lives safely in the US after experiencing violence and persecution. Although an older version of the video appeared on IRAP’s website for over a year, it received limited coverage. We launched an outreach strategy asking queer magazines to highlight Ahmed’s story and video. Out Magazine took us up on the idea and published an article embedding the advocacy video. Within a few hours of its release, the video went viral- receiving 20,000 hits on YouTube and later appearing in mainstream outlets such as The Huffington Post and The Guardian.

Though the camerawork showed only hands and blurred faces when its viewership skyrocketed, Ahmed requested it be taken down for fear of his family’s safety. This illustrates the conundrum successful advocacy videos can face as their popularity amplifies. When these films gain “viral” status, a parade of unpleasant side effects may occur including anger directed at filmmakers and producers paired with revictimization and embarrassment for featured parties. If you’re interested in learning more about filming techniques that can protect identities watch WITNESS’s training video here. You can also read about YouTube’s new technology that allows you to blur faces and protect anonymity after uploading videos. To learn more about some of the difficulties viral videos face read our Kony 2012 series here.

Since Ahmed’s video release, IRAP’s five equally tragic but less provocative videos have reached smaller audiences. The Ibrahim film featured above accompanied articles posted on the MomsRising blog, Global Voices, and a blog focused on children with disabilities. Midway through the campaign IRAP was successfully able to relocate the Ibrahims to the United States.

Content/Voices: IRAP’s six films highlight individual and personal stories shot within the homes where these people sought refuge. Their narrations are mixed with hope and dramatic pleas for help. There is an intimate quality that encodes trust between the filmmakers and interviewees.

Still image from “The Ibrahims Story”

Style: The HD camera work employs evocative angles and incorporates compelling background noises that are juxtaposed with simple visuals. The child laughter that opens The Ibrahims’ film is paired with a stark black screen, introducing the family’s hope and sadness. Each 2-5 minute film opens with a title card explaining the Iraqi refugee situation and ends with an audience call to action.

Funding: The Fledgling Fund– an organization that seeks to empower vulnerable communities through media projects backed this project along with a dedicated team of videographers and editors.

What can you do?

Do you need help?

  • Get Support: Iraqi refugees and resettled Iraqis can find support and information through IRAP’s Refugee Roadmap.

Join the conversation: What responsibility do western countries have in regards to the Iraqi refugee crisis? Did these videos affect your opinion or concern for the subject?

Liz spent the past few years working in Bhutan, Indonesia, and Guatemala. She is now pursuing a masters of International Affairs with a concentration on Media and Culture at the New School for Public Engagement. At WITNESS she interns with the Human Rights Channel, curating citizen video and cultivating the channel’s community through social media.

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